Long serv­ing Sully re­tires

Taupo & Turangi Weekender - - Letters To The Editor - Lau­rilee McMichael

He was a cer­ti­fied petrol and diesel me­chanic with a tod­dler and a new baby.

So it was a big leap of faith for John ‘Sully’ Sul­li­van to throw in his me­chanic’s ca­reer and train to be­come a teacher. His fa­ther and fa­ther-in-law both tried to talk him out of it. But Sully felt the time was right.

He grew up in Wairoa and left school at 15, at the end of what was then fourth form. He be­came an A grade me­chanic and later worked un­der­ground on the Kaimai rail tun­nel for six years then two years on geother­mal drilling rigs at Waira¯kei be­fore de­cid­ing to make the move to teach­ing af­ter a sug­ges­tion from his broth­erin-law, a fel­low teacher.

“I’d been work­ing for 15 years and I could see that my body wouldn’t sur­vive another 40 or 50 years of that and I was look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive.”

There was some op­po­si­tion, with Sully’s fa­ther and fa­ther-in­law both against him leav­ing a sta­ble ca­reer to re­train. But with wife Leigh plus their two-yearold son Daniel and three-mon­thold daugh­ter Toni, the fam­ily re­lo­cated to Auck­land for a year at Teach­ers’ Col­lege.

“I ap­plied, but be­cause I didn’t have any school qual­i­fi­ca­tions, I sat School Cer­tifi­cate at Train­ing Col­lege when I was 30.”

Sully landed a job in Toko­roa and two years later moved to Tauhara Col­lege in 1981. He is now 70, and has been at the col­lege for 38 years, reg­u­larly teach­ing the chil­dren of past stu­dents.

When Sully came to Tauhara it was the first year that it had a sev­enth form [year 13] and there was no metal work­shop. The class­room he oc­cu­pies had been the school’s tem­po­rary as­sem­bly hall. It was his job to start met­al­work, as it was then known, at the col­lege.

“It was just boys, there weren’t many girls at all. When we started here we tried to cre­ate the tran­si­tion but it took a while for girls to see it as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive.”

Al­most halfway through his time at Tauhara Sully took a year off teach­ing, did up a bus and he and Leigh trav­elled and worked around New Zealand.When they re­turned, they bought 4ha near Kin­loch where Sully planted grapes and built his own house over about five years. He al­ways has a range of projects on the go and the self-con­fessed petrol­head is cur­rently work­ing on a Chevy van.

Sully jokes he stayed at Tauhara be­cause no­body else wanted him, but says he has en­joyed work­ing with young peo­ple.

“Teach­ing has evolved and keeps on evolv­ing, it keeps on chang­ing and you have to keep pace with it. If you don’t move for­ward, your kids are left be­hind so you have to keep chang­ing and find­ing ideas that spin their wheels. I hope that in some way I’ve played a part in their growth.”

He’s seen a lot of changes too, from when met­al­work as­sess­ment was all the­ory, to to­day’s NCEA where there is a mix­ture of prac­ti­cal skills and the­ory and it is 100 per cent in­ter­nally as­sessed, plus many more girls com­ing through tech­nol­ogy and mov­ing into ca­reers such as en­gi­neer­ing.

He sees stu­dents from year 9 where they learn ba­sic hand tool and ma­chine work skills and a lit­tle bit of de­sign through to year 13 where the stu­dents will be given a brief to cre­ate a ma­chine that has to have two wheels and power, and given free rein to come up with some­thing of their own de­sign.

“Once you cre­ate that and you start to get in­side their head about it, they be­come the driving force be­hind it all and you can’t keep them out of the work­shop . . . If they have any spare time they will come in and do their work and I think that’s re­ally good. It means that they’ve got in­volved and they want to do it.”

Sully laughs when fel­low teacher Ross Kirk­wood says Sully is known for his bad lan­guage, but agrees he is a straight talker.

“I’m a bit of a dic­ta­tor as far as my work­shop runs. I al­ways tell [stu­dents] ‘you’ve got two ways of do­ing this: my way or my way’. But they don’t ob­ject to it, they like bound­aries, they ac­cept that.

“I wouldn’t say I’m bol­shy or ag­gres­sive but cer­tainly I have stan­dards that I’m not pre­pared to drop . . . you have to cre­ate a safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.”

Sully has big plans for 2019 — he still has to fin­ish build­ing his house, has a car­a­van to do up and a goal of driving across Amer­ica in a yel­low Mus­tang — but ex­pect to see him around the col­lege a day a week in term one while he hands over to his suc­ces­sor. He ex­pects re­tire­ment to be any­thing but re­lax­ing.

“With my cars and my farm and my an­i­mals and my grapes I’ve got enough other in­ter­ests.

“But I’ll miss com­ing in here all the time, I know that.

“Of all the things, I’ll miss the kids, see­ing them grow from 13 to an 18 year old and the way they ma­ture and be­come adults, and I’ll miss hav­ing that in­put into their growth and their ca­reers and their fu­tures and things like that. We’re in a po­si­tion where we in­flu­ence a lot of bod­ies, a lot of heads.

“It’s not a job, it’s a ca­reer and a pas­sion. You have to be­lieve you’re mak­ing a dif­fer­ence to their growth and their choices oth­er­wise what’s the point?”

■ Sully will be farewelled at a spe­cial as­sem­bly at Tauhara Col­lege next Thurs­day, De­cem­ber 13 at 12.30pm and mem­bers of the com­mu­nity are wel­come.

Photo / Lau­rilee McMichael

Tauhara Col­lege re­tir­ing tech­nol­ogy teacher John ‘Sully’ Sul­li­van: “I be­lieve pas­sion­ately in what I do and you hope that you make a dif­fer­ence in some of their lives along the way.”

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