Reflections of a teacher aide

Issue: Volume 100, Number 1

Posted: 4 February 2021
Reference #: 1HAG_b

Education Gazette talks to 101-year-old Mae Palmer about her career as a teacher aide. Mae worked as a teacher aide from 1965 at Papatoetoe North School, then at Murray’s Bay Primary from 1971 until her retirement.

Education Gazette talks to 101-year-old Mae Palmer about her career. Mae worked as a teacher aide from 1965 at Papatoetoe North School, then at Murray’s Bay Primary school from 1971 until her retirement.

What led you to become a teacher aide?

Mae: My husband passed away on a Sunday from a heart attack, and I found myself with four dependent children. I had been a housewife looking after the family. In discussion with the principal at Papatoetoe North, they offered me a position at the school as a teacher’s aide, looking after any sick students and providing support to the full staff by way of providing work sheets and teaching supplies. This enabled me to earn an income and still look after my youngest child, who was only five and had just started at Papatoetoe North.

What did the job entail back in 1965?

Mae: The work really was to be total support for staff by providing resources that they required in the classrooms, ensuring morning tea and afternoon was provided for them at break time and looking after any students who need first aid.

Did the nature of your job change much over the years, from when you started, until when you retired?

Mae: The role never changed much over the years working at the school, other than the advancement of the material that teachers required. I also assisted with the finance when necessary and this happened more when we moved to the North Shore and I started at Murray’s Bay School. Also, the First Aid requirements advanced as we became aware that students sometimes needed to have special medications while at school. The role was always to provide support to staff students and also parents. 

Did you enjoy working as a teacher aide? What were the best bits?

Mae: I loved the work and it really provided me great satisfaction serving the needs of those who cared for students. There were so many best parts it is hard to single any one out.

And the worst bits?

Mae: I would have to be honest to say the times I really did not enjoy my work was when I felt the interests of the students were not always the very first consideration, or when a few people did not really give 100 percent to the job. 

Do you have any particularly vivid, funny or poignant memories of your time as a teacher aide?

Mae: There are so many really as we would always have something to laugh about. I do remember one time telling the teachers that my old clock radio was not working so I put it in a cooling oven at home, which must have removed the moisture that caused the radio to not work. Great success with a simple solution. After a Christmas break one of the very dear male Scottish teachers came in and said “Where is that Mrs Palmer? I am still scraping my radio off the bottom of my oven!” We all did laugh about it as you should never give a man a woman’s job. 

What did you do when you retired from your work as a teacher aide?

Mae: When I retired, I continued working but as a volunteer running an opportunity shop for Murray’s Bay Baptist Church, that provided financial support to the Baptist City Mission, which provided food and shelter to those who were homeless in the inner city. 

She is our hero!

Robert Palmer, Mae’s youngest son, reflects on his mum’s contribution.

Mum will turn 102 on 25 February 2021 and is still singing and smiling most of the time. I am sure her giving, encouraging, servant heart is the reason she is still with us. I look at my mother and realise her greatest gift to me as her youngest son has been the example of serving others first. When my father passed away when I was five, my mother became both a father and a mother.

My mum lived through World War II and volunteered as an ambulance driver in Glasgow. The world has changed so much since she was born in 1919, yet her values have not changed. She is our hero!

Mum’s account highlights that while our awesome teachers care for the children of our country, behind them is another tier of support, assisting them to be able to do that.

New Zealand is a country that can be proud that we are one, seeking the very best for each other. The world will see that when we care for each other we can achieve almost anything together. 

Editor's note:

Sadly, Mae passed away on 13 January 2021. The Gazette would like to thank her son Robert for the opportunity to share her story.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:02 pm, 4 February 2021

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts