Helen Tilley retires, having spent most of her life at WHS

Helen Tilley went to Whanganui High School as a student, returned as a teacher of Geography in 1969, ‘retired’ in 2005, came back to supervise senior students either studying or doing external courses but is now really retiring. She hasn’t added up the number of students she has taught but it would be in multiples of thousands.

She remembers when High School was “looked down on” being the new school but praises the foundation principal, Tracey Gibson, for setting and achieving high standards. After completing her degree at Victoria University and her Secondary School Teaching Diploma in Auckland, she was more than happy when she was offered a teaching position back at her old school as she didn’t want to stay in Auckland.

One reason perhaps for being offered the job she believes, is her involvement in sport, especially hockey and cricket. She coached school teams and was an administrator at local, regional and national levels as well as being on the boards of NZ Women’s Hockey, NZ Secondary Schools’ Hockey and Girls Cricket. She umpired hockey, prepared the draws for hockey games on the hockey turf and even played it till about ten years ago. The hockey teams she coached frequently featured in secondary school finals.

Geographers seemed to do well at High School with Principal Warwick Maguire and his deputy Michael Young both qualified in Geography. Both would assist Helen, by now Head of Department, in Geography field trips to study issues such as ‘coastal processes’ along the Kapiti coast, ‘tourism and volcanic activity’ in Taranaki and Ruapehu.

Looking back she says “99.9% of the kids were great, worked hard and by year 13 had worked out their goals.” She believes that teaching today is “challenging, more complicated, ‘the times are a changing’ with the range of subjects, increased expectations, growing dependence on technology, research requirements and the need to check for plagiarism.”

She is happy being greeted by ex students, not only in Whanganui but elsewhere in the country. This year she was in the Bay of Islands and later at the Hockey World League finals in Auckland and ex students called out to her there.

Sports remain important and Helen has no plans to stop going to the gym or the swimming pool. She looks forward to watching more cricket and hockey with another visit to the Hockey World Championships which are in London in 2018, in the planning stages. As to how she will feel no longer going to school, she says, ask me in February when school restarts. 

By Doug Davidson
River City Press 14/12/17