Right at home in classroom

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When Roger van Booma was a schoolboy, he admits he was more of a joker than a learner. Oamaru Mail reporter Daniel Birchfield catches up with the new Waitaki Boys’ High School deputy rector to discover just how he ended up back in the classroom.

Q How long have you been involved in teaching?

I graduated from university in 2004. I was an adult student. I worked in the tanning industry in Australia as an organic chemist until I was in my late 20s or early 30s, then went back to university. I went to Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and then started teaching in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. It was a big school, with 1600 pupils. Then, I got homesick .. I was a home boy. Justine, my wife, came back with me and we got work straight away. That was in 2009.

Q Where did you teach when you came home?

I worked at Opihi College in Timaru for a start, then got offered a job at Roncalli College, just filling in. Then Kevin O’Sullivan, the then rector of Timaru Boys’ High School, invited me to go up and apply for a job in the social sciences department. I was the first new history teacher there for 41 years. That was my first fulltime job back in New Zealand. I went there, so it was unusual to go back there as a teacher. I was there until 2014 and started here in 2015.

Q What was it like teaching at a school you had attended?

It was pretty amazing. I never would have thought I would end up back there as a teacher. I never thought about being a teacher, ever. I hated school. I was skinny, I had a big mouth. I probably copped what I deserved. I was a show-off. My English report one year had no comment about my English, it just said “seems to think it’s the Roger van Booma show”. That didn’t go down very well in a Dutch household. I think I unknowingly had this huge sense that took over the way I taught because I had been an old boy. In the first couple of weeks as a teacher there, I visited my pigeonhole and there was an envelope there. I thought it might have been my contract to sign. It was the detention list from 1976 and my name was on it three times. Twice for smoking, once for bunking, I think.

Q Why did you decided on teaching as a new career?

Working in the tanning industry, I had quite a senior job. It was great, but they didn’t care about the people. Everything was about profit margin. I liked the chemistry, I liked the thinking, but I didn’t like the pressure and what happened to people. I had had a gutsful, so I decided to quit. My wife said “what are you going to do? What would you do if you could do anything?” I said I wanted to teach chemistry, it’s what I know. So I applied. I didn’t get in as a chemistry teacher. I’ve got advanced diplomas in chemistry and didn’t get accepted. I was like a big baby, I was near in tears. I applied for something secondary and got a letter two weeks later saying I had been accepted on a double degree doing a bachelor of education and bachelor of arts. My first lecturer was a guy that came out with a rastafarian hat on. I thought “you’re kidding me”. He started talking and I was gone . I was like a big sponge. When I graduated, I couldn’t believe I was a teacher.

Q What do you enjoy most about teaching?

The young people. Their energy. There’s never a dull moment here. I didn’t know what it was going to be like being a teacher. I’m a bit of an oozer, so I thought it was a bit like being a show-off, or an entertainer.

Q How would you describe your teaching style?

It’s a bit like a show .. kids have got to have fun. For me, teaching has got to be fun. It’s got to be interesting. I try and put as much stuff I have experienced in front of them and let them discover their own stuff about it. I’m not a chalk and talk teacher. I’m teaching social studies, a junior class. At the end of the day, it’s my break. To be in the classroom, I just love it.

Q What does your new role involve?

It’s my old job, plus a whole lot more. I’m still responsible for student welfare. Most of it is probably the day-to-day running of the school and the organisation of the big events, and looking after and co-ordinating the timetable. It’s probably more of an administrative role and pastoral. I’m very proud to be deputy rector of a school like this. At the moment, it’s all a bit surreal.

Q What makes a great Waitakian?

I think they’re the ones that give everything a good shot. It’s nothing to do with being the best. The best Waitakians, nothing gets in the way of them having a good go. They’re resilient. You don’t need to push them along, they want to be here. They come every day and they get stuck in. They have fun and they are excited about it. There’s not many Waitakians at school that aren’t great at some stage.