Turning his back on the law

June 2014


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JUDE BARBACK talks to Derek Dallow about what inspired him to train as a teacher after over 30 years as a corporate lawyer.

Teaching sometimes gets a bad rep when compared with other professions. The pay isn’t as good, the career pathways are limited, and so on. However, those gazing across the vocational fence at greener pastures should remember that others are staring right back and looking at the many benefits and virtues of teaching.

After 32 years as a corporate lawyer, Derek Dallow found himself looking to teaching for inspiration. He declared himself ready for a change, ready to “move from success to significance before [heading] to the employment graveyard”.

And so the 55-year old turned his back on the legal profession and took a one-year Graduate Diploma in teaching at Massey University’s Institute of Education at Albany last year. He is now a teacher at Glenfield School.

Dallow refused to see age as a barrier to starting out as a new teacher grad. He was one of three over-50 teaching grads in his year, with several in their 40s, and the rest in their 20s and 30s. His age obviously wasn’t a deterrent in getting a job; of the 96 applicants he was up against he was the eldest.

He is quick to point out that most of the new teacher grads who are generally much younger, have much to offer being closer in age to the students.

“In most cases I've seen they are still hugely creative, energetic and idealistic – all three essential for success in teaching.”

However, it seems clear that there are also many advantages to becoming a teacher later in life, equipped with a range of skills and perspectives obtained from earlier careers and experiences. In addition to his professional roles, Dallow attributes parenthood and grandparenthood for preparing him for the task ahead.

“I have no fear or concern in dealing with of any of the children or their parents as I helped raise five children myself and am now active with five grandchildren.

“[I] believed I had it in me to inspire young children especially from the fun I had coaching sports teams as our five children were growing up.”

In addition to his role as partner at North Shore firm Davenports Harbour Lawyers, Dallow has had a number of governance roles in a range of community and sporting ventures, including the Eden Park stadium re-development for the 2011 Rugby World Cup; North Harbour Stadium; the Fuji Force Netball franchise, and was one of the Crown-appointed directors for Regional Facilities Auckland. He was also Board of Trustees chairman of Rangitoto College, as well as for Whangaparoa Primary School, and was chairman of Massey University’s Advisory Board for 10 years.

Dallow believes much of what he has learned from the business world can be translated into teaching.

“As a lawyer I have had to deal with people under enormous stress and have learned how to work with them and understand how the stress may be manifesting itself.”

He also believes his law career has helped him to develop good problem solving and reflection – skills that are a necessity in the classroom.

“If I have a difficult child or one that has learning difficulties I will reflect, try stuff, search the net, ask colleagues, do whatever I can to try and solve the problem(s) that are blocking their learning.”

Dallow’s time in the corporate world has taught him a lot about leadership – lessons that are readily applicable to the school setting.

“You get the most out of other people by respecting that they are all unique and different, that each has a valuable contribution to make, and that trusting people lets them breathe and get on with the job the best they can.

“Servant leadership where principals and deputies do everything within their power to serve and support the teachers at the coalface, from my experience in business, will best produce the behaviours you are after.”

Coming to the teaching profession afresh, Dallow is concerned at the “extraordinary focus on the three Rs” when other subjects, such as physical education and the arts are just as important for developing “the whole wonderful creative human being”.

“I hope that all children get the chance in our education system to become mentally, physically, and spiritually strong. By spiritually strong I mean that the unique person inside them can be allowed to shine and come out to play such as developing their wonderful creative imaginations, giving them the opportunity to be inspired by great artists in both the visual and performing arts, and finally, helping to develop their instinctive intuition for any situation or opportunity that arises.”

In his first term of teaching, Dallow is not wasting any time in exploring ways to make this happen for his students, finding funding to allow the whole school to attend foundation classes at the art gallery.

He believes everyone has “a giant” inside them yearning to come out and says kids enjoy discussing their dreams and possibilities.

“I tell the kids that I know there is a giant inside them. I show them people like Lorde and the All Blacks and tell them these giants are out.”

As a trainee teacher, Dallow took his class of nine and ten-year olds to the All Blacks’ locker rooms at Eden Park and encouraged them to run through the famous tunnel into the stadium imagining what would be going through their minds if they were playing the first test of the Rugby World Cup in front of 60,000 screaming fans. Kids who had previously shown little or no inclination to write churned out pages of inspired prose.

Dallow’s also keen to tap into the natural competitiveness of most children and to use that to take them outside their comfort zones and extend themselves. To this end he has been establishing school houses and arranging with a former client to fund the fit out of the entire school in the latest sports gear in the colours of the respective house groups.

Dallow is keen to celebrate the diverse cultures in his classroom. Glenfield’s roll is made up of 24 per cent Pakeha, 21 per cent Filipino, 10 per cent Indian and the rest Maori, Pasifika and a range of other cultures. He aims to “unlock all the experiences, language, culture and backgrounds these kids brings”.

“There’s a notion that for a culture to enter a classroom, it has to first enter the consciousness of the teacher. There are over 180 different cultures in Auckland, so Glenfield Primary is probably the best school on the North Shore to prepare its students and teachers for the Auckland of tomorrow”.

Dallow’s passion and energy for teaching is inspiring, but so too is his bold decision to move careers at a later stage in life.

“I believe success only comes from doing what you love doing. If you aren't loving what you are doing any more or dreamed about one day doing something else, move on because others around you probably also feel the same, that you have something far more exciting, challenging, and rewarding somewhere else … go and find it!”


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