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Profile - Barbara Dineen

Many Old Girls will remember Barbara Dineen as the Languages HOD and French teacher at St Hilda's (1988-1998), but she is also an Old Girl. Here she shares her experiences and her career path from the past 50 years.

When I took off my St Hilda’s grey gym frock for the last time in 1961 after prizegiving, I knew exactly what I wanted to do - but just had no idea that three years later I would be on a ship, heading to France with my new husband who had been awarded a scholarship to do a Ph.D. in French! And it was largely due to the influence of Kate Hogg, our French teacher who had gone far beyond the boundaries of curriculum and introduced us to French art, French literature, and “living” France that I was determined to be a French teacher like her – someone who communicated a passion for France. So what better way to begin than with a degree in French, and almost 4 years of “Field work”?

Moving to and living in France back in the 60s was amazing. We settled in Montpellier – at the time a city not much bigger than Dunedin – it’s way bigger now! Montpellier is considered the University city in France, student life was rich, and the climate was agreeable too. In addition, there were all the remains of the Roman civilisation only hours away. I’ll never forget the first steps on Roman paving stones, and for the first time understanding better what history was.

But student scholarships didn’t go far, and we had to live! Through a friend, I picked up a waitressing job – totally illegal – and worked 17 hours a day, 7 days a week. The money was good, the clients were interesting, I was fired three times, but always asked to come back so the boss could put his “English Spoken” sign (a rare thing in those days) on the door. But best of all, I really learnt French!

It was a wrench to return to NZ,, and I missed France dreadfully. Still do. We both had jobs, though – Roy at University, me at Kaikorai Valley High. And I did find that teaching was what I’d hoped. Things were different then, though – when our daughter was born in the early 70s, there was no maternity leave. You either returned to your position when your baby was 6 weeks old, or you resigned. And there were virtually no child-care provisions back then, so no choice really – not that I minded!

Things continued like this, with a sabbatical year in 1975, until 1981. Children at school, and a position at the now-defunct Moreau College. It was a great time; I enjoyed the atmosphere of the Catholic school, the work ethic and also the fun. We were all devastated when the decision was made to combine Moreau with St Paul’s. But I was lucky: the HOD Languages at St Hilda’s was advertised at that point, so I returned to my Alma Mater for 10 years.

We did some fun things there too. I remember the bicentenary of the French revolution in 1989 – we had a Tour de France round the neighbourhood, among other things. We had an amazing Form 4 Crime Detection week, involving Police, various compliant shopkeepers, journalists, and of course the girls. Good times!

1998 saw me on leave for a year: I was appointed one of five National Language Advisors, responsible for Christchurch and the area south. We were tasked with introducing languages at Years 7 and 8, and had an excellent programme to provide to schools, and show teachers how to implement it. It was challenging, I was away from home for half of each month, but it was such fun meeting teachers and seeing enthusiasm grow! I rate this highly as a tool for breaking down the resistance to second language learning, something that has always been a shortcoming in our education system.

After that stimulating year, I guess it was inevitable that I look for a change, and it came when I moved sideways to become HOD Religious Studies at Columba – with some French on the side, bien sûr! Again, I loved the teaching, enjoyed using NCEA in constructive ways, and all seemed settled till I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.

But that year wasn’t all bad. In the middle of it all, the French government awarded me the distinction of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, for services to French language and culture. Just like Miss Hogg! Pretty special!

A year later, treatment behind me, I resumed teaching, but only for a year. Full time was a bit much, and part-time wasn’t acceptable. So I packed away my red pen and my Unit Plans, and waited to see what would pop up.

I became involved in the visiting programme St John’s Parish runs with Leslie Groves Home and Hospital, and I discovered that teaching skills were actually transferable – that caring for and about teenage girls wasn’t so different from engaging with our elderly residents. It was fun, and rewarding. And what settled it was the unexpected arrival of twelve elderly evacuees from the Christchurch earthquake, transported here in the middle of the night. The need for pastoral care increased. And so here I am, ordained and Chaplain to about 100 residents, as well as their families and staff. Each resident, when he or she comes to join our family, brings his or her own personal baggage: grief, anxiety or apprehension. Leaving behind home, independence, and often family, and facing declining health and the necessity to adapt to a completely new way of life. One gentleman I walked with had never in his life owned a soft toy – we found him a little brown teddy bear, and it went with him to the end.

Never did I think I would enjoy any job as much as teaching. This work, though, is as rich in satisfaction. I can listen to the residents’ stories, and often walk with them and their families; this is such a privilege. And finally, in my association with the Cathedral where I’m based, I can keep up my languages chatting to foreign tourists who come by.

I feel very lucky. Thank you, Miss Hogg!

Barbara Dineen

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