Retiring maths teachers a winning formula

Taieri College mathematics teachers Gwenda Hill (left) and Sally Shanks will retire next week,...
Taieri College mathematics teachers Gwenda Hill (left) and Sally Shanks will retire next week, after combined careers of 80 years at the school. Photo: Christine O'Connor
They say a good friend is a person who knows you better than you know yourself.

That is certainly the case for retiring Taieri College mathematics teachers Gwenda Hill (64) and Sally Shanks (63).

The duo have worked together in the school’s maths department for more than three decades, but the bonds of their friendship do not end there.

They were both born in Owaka, they are both former pupils of The Taieri High School, they were both married in Mosgiel on the same day, and they occasionally take holidays together.

They joked that it was hard to forget their wedding anniversary because at least one of them always remembered it.

"We go out and celebrate our wedding anniversaries together, and we take our husbands along to pay the bill," Mrs Shanks said.

When they are away from the prying eyes of pupils, it is not unusual to see them tease and joke with each other.

Mrs Hill said there had been a few staff over the years say, "Oh, you’re so awful to one another".

But Mrs Shanks said, "If we didn’t like one another, we would be incredibly polite."

Mrs Hill said she could not imagine working at the school without her "partner in crime".

"I have had to when Sally’s been off sometimes, and it’s really hard. Sally knows me better than I know myself sometimes.

"When I’m a bit stressed or something, she’ll just say, ‘Don’t you do that, I’ll do that,’ and she takes over."

Mrs Shanks said it was a two-way street.

"We really support one another."

Mrs Hill has spent her entire 43-year career teaching maths at Taieri College and rose to become the head of the department in 1990.

Mrs Shanks started out as a primary teacher but retrained in calculus and statistics, and has spent the past 37 years teaching alongside Mrs Hill in the maths department at Taieri College.

Why stay so long?

Mrs Hill answered, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it."

Both planned to spend more time with family in their retirement.

While Mrs Shanks said she would go "cold turkey" and never return to teaching, Mrs Hill said she would do some relieving teaching at the school from time to time.

"I would find it really hard to go cold turkey. You deal with about 120 kids a day. I would need my fix of company and to feel I was still contributing."

One of the most complex mathematical equations they had not yet been able to solve during their careers was the formula for friendship.

"We haven’t found that yet. Pi or E-squared might have something to do with it," Mrs Hill joked.

Both said they planned to work on it together in their retirement.

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