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Interview: Goodbye TGS for Robin Holding

Flagstaff Team


Robin Holding was a teenage schoolgirl when she first walked up the driveway of Takapuna Grammar School in 1968. This month she leaves the school as one of its longest-serving staff, after nearly four decades of teaching there. 

In her own school days, she was Robin Jenkins, and she’d arrived at Takapuna Grammar (TGS) midway through her secondary-school years because the family had moved up from Wellington for her father’s job in education. Although they settled in Northcote, her dad had his eye on TGS for his daughters and they would bus to their new school from home. 

“There’s no way he would have sent me to an all-girls school. He was very pro co- education,” remembers Holding. 

And just like her father, Holding is passionate about education and teaching. Leaving TGS, she takes with her years of great memories of her life and times there. 

It’s the school she came to early in her career. Her first job out of teacher training was at Epsom Girls Grammar, but when a job came up at TGS, she went after it. 

“Teaching has been fantastic,” she says. It’s one of her last days in the classroom, with many goodbyes ahead and that farewell afternoon tea in the staffroom looming. 

“Yes, it’s going to be a big wrench. There are lots of people I will miss. I will miss the challenge of working with teens and I will miss the buzz of the school community. It’s going to be a big change, but I am ready for it. 

There comes a tipping point for all of us and for me it is time for a change.” 

Holding had thought teaching at TGS would very likely be her last job, until a new opportunity in education – out of the classroom – came her way. She’s leaving to work for Advanced Learning Ltd, an organisation founded by Dr Ian Hunter, an educator and author, who is widely known amongst staff and students for his groundbreaking academic- writing programme, ‘Write that Essay’. 

Robin and her husband, Terry Holding, who himself has recently retired from teaching at TGS, were already making changes. The couple moved from their home in Vauxhall Rd to an apartment at Kensington Park in Orewa. And they’re enjoying it, says Robin, who has been commuting back to her job at TGS. 

“We love the lifestyle, and when we got up there we found old friends both from education and from the neighbourhood had already moved up that way before us.” 

Not that this busy couple has eased up much. Terry is a busy JP, and he’s often making the morning commute with Robin for business in the city. 

Robin and Terry met at TGS, where he was the Head of the English, when she arrived as a staff member. They married in 1986, and later their son Tim went to the school from 2000 to 2004. 

Robin too was Head of English, stepping down in 2010 after nine years in the role. She had an interest in journalism and media studies and part of her legacy at the school is the Robin Holding Award for top students in media. 

In recent years, she’s been responsible for overseeing the students who write the stories for the regular pages the school takes in The Flagstaff. That’s been a very successful venture for both the students and the school, and the local community, she says. 

Mentoring her group of eager newshounds also brings back memories of a stint of sports reporting Holding did years ago, phoning in her stories to newspapers from weekend sports xtures. 

“I saw how the professionals changed my stories from the way I had written them and I learned a lot from that.” 

In her near 40 years at TGS, Holding has seen lots of changes in the school and in education. She’s seen out six principals. She saw the back of caning kids in schools when it was abolished back in 1982. She recalls the mufti years for seniors in the 80s and 90s – and the subsequent passing of that era with no regrets. She remembers very well the coming of NCEA and the changes that brought. But bringing in NCEA didn’t stop the world turning, she says. 

Today, the school is a much more sophisticated environment, with far greater diversity in courses and opportunities for students. And the students are different too from the young people she remembers. 

“Some say that standards have fallen. But I don’t think our students are worse than earlier generations in terms of behaviour or study. We’ve got some really top kids. 

“I’ve seen big changes in attitudes to education among students and their parents. And that’s also part of a societal shift. As the demands of employers are changing, everyone is talking about upskilling. 

“Students are not just looking at where they’ll be doing their first degree; they’re also looking now at where they’ll be carrying on to do their second degree. And without a doubt, many more students these days do go on to do tertiary education. That is the expectation now. 

“I have never had any discipline issues and I’m known for being rm. Its often been challenging, but I don’t take any rubbish. I believe I’ve set high standards. 

“I have really loved teaching. It’s a great feeling when you close that classroom door and you are queen of your own domain. Yes it’s very busy, but I’ve never found it stressful. Just busy.” 

Outside the classroom, Holding has played a big part in the school’s rowing community. She’s been the teacher in charge of the sport over three periods of time since 1992. 

“They were amazing years and we have made lasting friendships with so many kids and parents through rowing. But it was also a huge demand on time and energy. In any season, I would be away from home for about 23 nights at rowing camps from October to March.” 

Surely being camp mother to high-spirited teenage rowers on away trips would have tried the patience of even the most dedicated and skilful teacher? 

“Not really,” she says. Rowers are very focused. They have big days and they are happy to get to bed. We’d all be up before six. There weren’t the sort of shenanigans you might expect from school camps.” 

Then there have been the overseas trips with big student groups and, sometimes, working in tandem with her husband. Robin and Terry took 48 kids to Australia last year and she took a group to the USA this year. 

So she’s kept up a cracking pace to an age where many would be thinking about retirement. In her last years at TGS, more senior roles have seen her have less classroom and contact time with students. 

“I’ve had more time to recharge and that does make the days easier. But teaching English is one of the toughest jobs around. In the current environment, with the internal- assessment model, the workload is just overwhelming for many teachers. 

“The system teachers are now working in is incredibly wearing and many are at breaking point. 

“I meet up with friends who left teaching years ago, and they say they can’t believe that I’m still doing it. I guess the love of it has kept me going.” 

She must know nearly every kid in Devonport – and their parents. And she knows she’s made a difference. 

“Along the way, you get a handful of lovely cards from the kids. One I will never forget read: ‘You are reigniting my passion for English’. For me, that’s enough!” 

Holding acknowledges that getting her nights and weekends back will be a very welcome change. She says the extra-curricular load her generation of teachers all accepted as part of the job is now viewed differently by a generation of teachers who are more aware of work-life balance. 

So she’ll be happy to swap some of that workload for walks on Orewa Beach and happy memories. 

“It’s been an amazing journey and I’m going out on a high.” 


Source: Devonport Flagstaff 19 October 2018 edition. View online.