In 1995, the Northland Age had an ad for a maths teacher at BOIC. I was building a pole house for two teachers in Whatuwhiwhi at the time. I told my wife that I missed teaching and I would like to apply. I was able to get a mate to finish the job with the owners' concurrence.

Nuu, our two young sons and I drove my work truck down to Bay of Islands College for me to meet the principal, Mr Devine. He checked my degrees and offered me either a maths or an English position. I wanted maths, and like all new teachers, I got the elementary classes.

Every day I wore a tie and a dress shirt. Often I would stay after school and play basketball with my students. My classes, which could have been challenging, were actually fun. I did not take sick days, but one day I had to be away.

As soon as my meeting was over, I rushed back to my class. I could see the students running and jumping. I asked, "Where's the reliever?" "Walked out."

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When I got my first cheque, I saw that I had been making more pounding nails. Mr Devine sorted that out, but I would have stayed anyway, since for me teaching is a calling, not a job.

The joke in the faculty lounge one lunch time was, "Bubbles Clifford said, 'Mr Ward loves us.' Is that right? Do you love them?" I was sort of sheepish when I replied, "Yes, I guess I do."

I went from BOIC to Kaitaia College, where I became the woodwork teacher. My new principal approved my request to teach building so that woodwork would lead to a trade qualification.

Hey, we all know that the shop kids are challenging and may only be in school until they turn 16. Big dog had to mark his territory, so I put up a speed bag and a heavy bag. First day of class, I did five minutes on the speed bag and heard, "I don't want to be in his bad book."

Second day of class, I lined up my students at the door and read to them from Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Every day I read to them. I offered them a goal: a trade cert in elementary construction skills, which is the first step on the trade cert in carpentry. When I am walking in Kaitaia, students will call out from their utes ... my reward is that they're tradies.

I had to be the top dog, I had to address their characters, and I had to give them an attainable goal.

Like the teachers and nurses who are facing strike action, I appreciated the raises, but I was not in it for the money. It was my calling, not my job.

MIKE WARD
Mangonui