Treasured Whanganui teacher retires

Joy McLean

The kapa haka group at Whanganui’s Cullinane College gave a stirring haka to treasured and respected teacher Joy McLean on July 3, wrapping up 60 years of teaching, the last 19 at the college.

At the full-school end-of-term-2 assembly and liturgy, principal Justin Harper said that Mrs McLean is a woman of faith.  “She believes in the beauty of life and that God has a purpose for everyone. This love led Joy to teaching in some unique settings,” he said.

After graduating from Palmerston North Teachers College aged 20, she taught mainly in the Whanganui region. She had no particular ambitions to work up the educational career ladder, but wanted to remain close to students in the classroom. She had a full and varied life in New Zealand’s education system as a teacher with special needs students, troubled youth and as a counsellor for the educational psychological services.

At her first teaching appointment, the principal quickly recognised her extraordinary gift of empathy, and invited her to teach students with specific learning requirements, as mainstreaming was being introduced into the school structure. Mrs McLean always believed that all children, whatever their learning capabilities, had the right to experience school life.

“I always worked towards my classrooms specifically being warm and welcoming, enabling the students to feel safe and for me to gain their trust. Nurturing a friendly class atmosphere helped students to be comfortable to learn,” Mrs McLean said.

With a natural ability to recognise each student’s learning difficulties, she was able to set out unique learning strategies for them, and empower them to achieve the best they could.

“Many did achieve NZQA level 1 and went on to find meaningful work,” she said.

For seven years, she taught in the Felix Donnelly Youth Link family trust college in south Auckland for at-risk students. These were students with a huge range of behavioural and psychological needs. While this had its challenges, she always knew God was with her. “Prayer has always been central in my life, particularly when called to move out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Returning to Whanganui, she had planned on retiring, but found herself working in the learning centre at the then-St Augustine’s. When this college merged with Sacred Heart in 2003 to form co-educational Cullinane, she set about establishing the special needs centre, becoming its original co-ordinator.

In 2018, she again tried to retire, but was asked by then-principal Kevin Shore to remain as the librarian.  During the Covid-19 lockdown in March this year, she made the decision to retire once and for all.

“I never dreamt I would last so long in teaching, but I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said.

With her husband unwell, she is looking forward to taking him on outings, and attending to her passions of sewing, cooking and scrapbooking.

To the students on her last day on a school campus she said: “If you see me out and about, don’t forget to say hello and give me a cuddle.”




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Sue Seconi

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