Diane Glennie dropped out of school at 15 and started hairdressing, carrying with her a feeling that she was "dumb".

How wrong she was.

After getting married, having children and hairdressing part-time for a number of years, Glennie decided to take on secondary school night classes when she was in her 20s.

She passed School Certificate subjects English and geography and followed that with University Entrance English. What ensued was a long career in teaching.

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In her 30s, Glennie was looking for further education, dabbling in arts classes and other pursuits until she really challenged herself with a Massey University paper.

"I was interested in sociology and behavioural psychology. I just passed by the skin of my teeth," Glennie said.

"I went back to see what I could do. I loved it. That was the start of my education."

Glennie went on to pass three more papers towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree in human development, Māori tikanga and sociology, before moving to Wellington for Teachers Training College.

Studying wasn't always smooth sailing.

In her third year of teacher training, Glennie was in her early 40s. Having never been overseas, she got the travel bug, and abandoned her studies to set off for Canada and London.

Glennie says it was an impulsive action and she attributed it to a fear of success when success is near – a topic she wrote an essay on during her time at university.

"If you succeed, there are a whole lot of expectations that people will put on you, or you will put on yourself," she said.

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"Thoughts of, 'Do you deserve this?' and 'Who do you think you are?'"

However, while overseas, she realised working without qualifications was not going to be easy. She returned to New Zealand, completed her studies and received a Diploma in Teaching.

When she was 43, Glennie began teaching at a primary school in the Pohangina Valley and loved it so much she stayed there for three years before moving to the Kapiti Coast.

In 2001, her desire to travel returned, so Glennie moved to Barcelona where she taught adults to speak English for a year before returning to New Zealand.

Glennie initially chose Whanganui, where she was a relief teacher at Keith Street School and Whanganui Intermediate School, before taking up the role of teacher aide tutor at Training For You.

She then moved back to Wellington to be closer to her grandchildren and worked at WelTec in Petone, running the National Certificate in Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education programme.

"I've had my finger in a few pies in education, little pockets of different kinds of teaching and I've loved every single one of them," Glennie said.

"Primary school, workplace literacy, teacher aiding, training polytech tutors and then I moved to teaching literacy and numeracy for adults in the community, which is completely different again."

Glennie successfully applied to work with Training For You again, this time in charge of running the Women in Learning and Switch On programmes.

Glennie says Women in Learning was a fabulous experience.

"It was amazing working with women and how women felt about being on the programme when there were no men.

"A lot of those woman had huge life experiences where they'd been negatively affected by the power of men physically and mentally. They had poor or no education, so it was an amazing safe space for them to be."

The programme appeared to be a success, so it was suggested it would benefit men as well and an adjustment was made to create Tangata Toa, or strengthening people.

Men would tell Glennie their stories of abuse, what they had done or what they had been on the other end of. They would explain their lack of education and that they wanted to better their lives for themselves and for their families.

One of Glennie's secrets to success in the classroom is sharing her own stories and encouraging students to share theirs.

"I tell them I left school early. I know what it feels like, lining up at Work and Income and waiting for a 'handout'. Having to sell things to pay for electricity. Having a beaten-up old car that won't go.

"My experiences of all of those things and the travel I've done and the different jobs that I've done. I've come out of that with a positive attitude and with empathy for people."

After working for 53 years, Glennie is retiring, but her learning and development won't stop.

She plans to go tramping, dog walking, kayaking, cycling and has lined up a woodworking course with Community Education Wanganui. The stories will continue unfolding.

"Listen to people's stories. And tell the stories. Don't be shy about telling your own story. Telling stories is very powerful.

"When you tell your story, it encourages people to tell their story, too."