Christine Materoa Papuni has been remembered by her students as a one-in-a-million teacher who cared for her students as if they were her own children.

Also known as Chrissie or Nan, she died on Wednesday at the age of 70.

Christine leaves behind three children. Eldest daughter Amiria Papuni said her mother valued education.

"Mum had a fighting spirit, especially if she was right. This was only surpassed by her love for not only us but all her students - including those she would bring home to stay."

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Amiria said the family, especially her father, would miss their mother's infamous apple pie.

"Her cooking skills were a bit hard-case, measuring in fistfuls, and a little bit of this," Amiria said.

"She instilled in us the importance of education if you wanted to get anywhere in life.

"When she wasn't at home, she was either at yet another school or whānau hui or at the [Mataatua] marae.

"Mum was our rock, she listened to our problems, provided guidance and was always there - good times and not so good. Wherever she went, she made a difference."

Three of Christine's students penned a touching tribute to the teacher they called "Nan" for the Rotorua Daily Post.

Nell Rewi-Caughley​, Luisa Vulu and Vyna Lamont wrote that she had been a selfless teacher who went out of her way to take care of her students.

"Nan was a generous women who also fought for the underdogs and was more like a Nan than a teacher," they said.

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"Nan always put us straight when we were out of line and always showed us unconditional and unwavering love and despite what anyone else said or thought she always had faith in us, no matter what.

"Her bright red lipstick on our cheeks will be a long lasting memory for us kids."

The group said Nan was the strongest woman they knew, and a woman who changed the lives of anyone who knew her.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said Christine, who he called Chrissie, was an "outstanding colleague, friend and mentor to staff".

Her teaching career began at the school in 1978 when it was a boys' school known as Edmund Rice College.

She was there in 1987 when the school amalgamated with McKillop College to create the now John Paul College, and there she stayed until 1991 before moving on.

But she loved the school and returned in 2009 to be head of the Māori department. She retired in 2015 but not for long, returning as acting head of department in April this year.

Walsh said she organised kapa haka, Manu Kōrero and the Whānau Group in her time at the school and was still involved in retirement.

"She had a deep sense of manaakitanga ... She cared deeply for every student, even the ones she growled at," Walsh said.

"She opened the world of Māoridom in a positive way to non-Māori students and staff.

"Her aroha and wairua touched thousands of students over many years."

Walsh said Chrissie would be remembered for her warmth, sense of humour and ability to work in both the Māori and Pākehā worlds.

"Our only comfort is that she died doing what she loved best, working in the whare with the tamariki and organising things Māori."

Chrissie collapsed suddenly at John Paul College on May 29. She was taken to hospital in a critical condition and died surrounded by whānau on Wednesday.

She was the daughter of the late Potaua and Amiria Anderson and leaves behind many siblings, a husband, three children and many grandchildren.