Grandson inspired teacher to stay on

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by Molly Houseman

After attending Timaru Boys’ High School as a pupil and then returning to teach there for 39 years, Ian Willis has just a matter of weeks to go before he leaves the school gates for good.

He had planned to retire last year, but decided to stay on for an extra year when the opportunity arose to teach his namesake grandson.

“I’ve enjoyed almost every single part of it.”

Mr Willis (66), who studied at Canterbury University and taught in Gore for a few years before moving to Timaru in 1982, said his love of nature led him to follow the path to becoming a biology teacher.

“I enjoyed it from a young age. I have still got books I was given from when I was [a child], which are nature books.”

He recalled getting a microscope for Christmas when he was 11.

It seemed it had been the right path to take.

“I enjoy the young kids when they come in, but the icing on the cake is interacting with the senior boys before they head off to tertiary studies and beyond.”

Mr Willis said he had taught many intelligent pupils who went on the have “glittering” careers.

One of those pupil was Prof Nigel McMillan .

While living and working in Australia, Prof McMillan made a major breakthrough in the battle against cervical cancer and credited Mr Willis for sparking his interest in the field.

“He very pleasantly suggests that some of his success was down to me, which I don’t believe for a minute,” Mr Willis said.

As for how teaching had changed over his four-decade career, it was no longer about the acquisition of knowledge.

“You can acquire that at the touch of a button,” he said.

The skills required by the new generation was learning how to distinguish what information was credible, and what wasn’t.

extra year to teach his grandson, also Ian Willis, who started year 9 at the beginning of this year.

Ian (13) said it had been “really good” to be taught by his grandfather, and Mr Willis agreed.

But it had proved a “weird” year to be a teacher, as new challenges arose due to the impact of Covid-19.

Now he was looking forward to starting a new chapter.

“I have taught 44 years without a break,” he said.

“I have had no extended time off

Mr Willis planned to spend his retirement working on his house and enjoying his home.

“I love the place I live the town of Timaru.”