January, 1977, might seem a long, long time ago but for Jean Cowan it feels like yesterday.
That was when she started teaching at Maraeroa School, after previous stints at Tairangi School and in her native Cook Islands. On June 29, Ms Cowan bought the curtain down on her career, after a ‘‘wonderful’’ sendoff in Maraeroa’s hall.
There was plenty of colour, laughter and song – with the Cook Islands High Commissioner in attendance – but no sadness.
‘‘I thought I might cry because this has been such a huge part of my life for so many years but I was too busy having a good time to worry about being sad. It doesn’t feel like 35 years, I can’t believe it.’’
Holding classroom teacher and associate principal roles meant no day was ever the same, which kept her invigorated for 35 years.
‘‘If I was working in an office I think it would have been different. But as a teacher you have new kids and new parents every year, new challenges, and I loved it.’’
Being part of the ‘‘community’’ that encompassed a school like Maraeroa was important to her.
‘‘The people who support this school are amazing. I enjoyed establishing relationships in the school and out there [ in Porirua], that was a huge part of what I wanted to do.’’
Today, with children more technology-savvy, teachers face extra pressure to keep up. But at the heart of primary teaching must remain the desire to nurture young lives, she says.
Teachers at this level must develop with the times but continue to be ‘‘entertainers’’ as well as mentors and educators. Realising that ‘‘one size does not fit all’’ is crucial to success.
‘‘Teaching is not a 9am to 3pm job, sometimes you are like parents and nurses and teachers, all in one. You need to plan well and the [payoff] for me was to see a child moving forward with good writing, reading and maths skills.’’
It was during a recent trip to a wedding in Rarotonga that Ms Cowan reassessed her working life, deciding the prevalent Cook Island attitude of ‘‘ working to live’’ rather than vice versa would be her creed.
‘‘I want more time with my grandchildren, more time for me.’’
Heartfelt goodbye: Along with her deep local knowledge and teaching skills, Ms Cowan’s proficiency with a ukulele and ability to decorate a hall will be missed by her colleagues at Maraeroa School. Her dynamic dress sense – especially in the handbag department – will be remembered fondly.