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Students say racial sensitivity could have been the catalyst for yesterday's stabbing of a West Auckland high school teacher.

Avondale College was in lockdown for most of yesterday, after Japanese language teacher Dave Warren was wounded by a student about 11.40am.

His alleged attacker - a 17-year-old Korean - was to appear in the Auckland District Court today charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The student was arrested in Blockhouse Bay about an hour after the attack.

Students told the Herald Mr Warren's attacker was a Korean national who principal Brent Lewis said had been at the school "three or four weeks".

One student, who did not want to be named under threat of expulsion, said an incident had taken place at the school on Monday.

"Yesterday, some kids in that class said [the teacher] must've said a joke about South Korea - and that guy's from South Korea."

The 20-student class were studying NCEA level two and three Japanese.

Mr Warren was stabbed just below his right shoulder while writing on a whiteboard, standing with his back to the class.

A student who had been waiting to see the nurse said a teacher and another pupil had burst in, shouting that a teacher had been stabbed.

"We were in the nurse's room and one of the students in the class and a teacher came in shouting for the nurse to come, someone's been stabbed - they said he was on the floor.

"The nurse left and the bells went off."

Police and ambulance services arrived shortly after, and Mr Warren was taken to Auckland Hospital in a serious condition.

Mr Lewis said he knew nothing of claims that a racial remark had triggered the attack.

However, one teacher said staff were told that "an incident" had occurred between Mr Warren and his alleged attacker in class on Monday.

Students gave different assessments of Mr Warren's teaching style.

One told TV3's Campbell Live Mr Warren, 49, was "all right".

"He would pick on [me] - because I'm Japanese myself - he picked on Japanese people because he expected us to know Japanese."

Another told the Herald some of Mr Warren's "usual" comments had the potential to offend.

"If we're running in the hall, he'll say: 'You, the big Islander one over there, get over here'."

Parents arrived early to collect students who witnessed the attack. Many of the teens had their faces covered with jerseys.

Mr Warren was still in Auckland hospital when the Herald visited his Waterview home last night.

His flatmate, who asked not to be named, said Mr Warren was a "very kind man" who is very fit and often rode his bicycle to school.

Prime Minister John Key- who met Korean President Lee Myung-Bak yesterday - said he was shocked by the stabbing.

"This is alarming ... but we need to understand whether it's an isolated incident out of left field or whether something more serious is going on."