Margaret Ilton dismissed her class at Oturu School for the weekend, and two weeks' holiday, for the final time on Friday, after a career that began 48 years ago, just over the hill.

Mrs Ilton, who grew up at Kaimaumau, and has returned there for her retirement with husband Claude, began teaching in 1968, at Kaitaia Primary School, where the headmaster, teachers Joy Dawson, Darryl Anderson and Ima Grbic, and others, had a hugely positive influence on her.

Between there and Oturu she had stints much further south, including Nelson, the West Coast and Roxborough.

"I've come full circle, back to where I began," she said on Thursday as the school prepared to farewell her, and to celebrate its annual harvest festival.


It was time to go, she added, though she had loved every moment of her career. Getting up to go to school every morning had never been a problem for her and she would happily return when the new term started, for the children.

As it was she was expecting to be at school on Saturday, her first day of retirement, and quite possibly on Monday, tidying things up.

Mrs Ilton said she had started teaching in the days when everyone was expected to do a good day's work, and could rely on being reminded of that when they did not, but the children hadn't changed. They still arrived at school with all sorts of experiences and skills, and at early primary age were "absolutely pliable". It was up to their teachers to maximise every moment of their education, and to give them everything they needed.

"We can't change the negative but we can reinforce the positive," she said.

"Kids today are every bit as good as we were. The generations might be different but that has to be. There is no need to worry at all about today's younger generation."

Meanwhile, one of the major positive changes that had taken place in education was the introduction of teacher aides.

"We didn't have them in the old days. You were on your own, and you managed," she said.

"The work teacher aides do is completely under-rated, not greatly recognised but extremely worthwhile. One person can do so much; two can do so much more."

Her teacher aide, Imla Wati, who was quietly preparing for the harvest festival feast on Thursday, epitomised everything that was good about her role and the contribution it made, she added.

And if some children didn't always seem to appreciate the efforts that were being made at school on their behalf, she was consistently gratified to see them come to understand later in life what their teachers had done for them.

She had no doubt that her successor at Oturu, Monty Pawa (already well known at the school for his instruction in music, te reo and kapa haka over the past three years), would enjoy the role as much as she had, and would have no difficulty in ensuring that his charges gained the maximum benefit from what he could give them.

Now it was time to contemplate spending more time with a mullet net than inspiring children, but Mrs Ilton had a tip for those following her.

"The one piece of advice I would give any teacher is to chat with the children when they arrive every morning," she said.

"Look for the moods, talk with them, and always have a smile with and from them.

"Children who arrive at school with the weight of the world on their shoulders won't have reading and writing at the top of their priorities. A little time spent lifting that weight before the day starts can make all the difference."