South Canterbury's favourite teacher Di Anderson is the heart of her community video

JOHN BISSET/STUFF

Albury School principal release Di Anderson was surprised to learn she had won the regional Stuff Favourite Teacher award.

FAVOURITE TEACHER AWARDS: From the Christchurch quake tragedy to Parliament's select committees, we're travelling the country to meet some of New Zealand's best teachers.

They say a school is the heart of the community – and Di Anderson has taken that to heart.

The "exuberant" teacher with a passion for her community, arts and physical education has been working hard at a small South Canterbury country school since the 1980s. 

Albury School principal release Di Anderson was surprised to learn she had won the regional Stuff Favourite Teacher award.
JOHN BISSET/STUFF

Albury School principal release Di Anderson was surprised to learn she had won the regional Stuff Favourite Teacher award.

Albury School principal Ken Heaphy was "vague" about the precise number of years.  "She's been here longer than I've been," he laughed. 

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Today, Anderson was named the South Canterbury/Otago winner of the Favourite Teacher Awards, a partnership between Stuff, TVNZ Breakfast and Matilda, the Musical. The overall winner will be named on Sunday.

Anderson, centre, has always enjoyed teaching art subjects and being involved with PE.
JOHN BISSET / STUFF

Anderson, centre, has always enjoyed teaching art subjects and being involved with PE.

Being a "country girl" herself, Anderson felt she could relate to country children very easily.  "I just like the country children and what they bring. There's no inhibitions with them, they like the environment that they're living in," she said.

"Because it's a small school you develop such a rapport with the children, [you] get to know them well and know the families." 

Former Albury School pupil Lucy Brown said Anderson, known to her as "Mrs A", was her teacher between 2000 and 2006. 

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"She went above and beyond for me and the other students," Brown said. "From a small country town school, with a maximum of about 33 children at the time, she engaged us in all aspects of life through sport, music and academic aspects." 

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Anderson continued to support her former pupils long after they had left the school, Brown said, "even if the meeting ground for such catch-ups is now the local pub rather than the classroom".

Anderson was "still going strong" and she retained the same work ethic and values, helping anyone who came her way in the small town's school, Brown said.  "Our lives would not be the same without her, nor would we have such a desire to strive for the best in ourselves and to see that in others.

"There is no doubt that Mrs A is an incredible, kind-hearted, dedicated teacher, and member of the community who loves to see us thrive from year 1 through to university or work aspirations. She truly is the heart of our community and inspires us all to be us and be the best we can be."

Di Anderson said Lucy was special and they always made an effort to catch up. 

Born in Waimate, Anderson has taught at schools in Fairlie, Cannington and more.

She arrived in Albury to teach before meeting her husband, Bill, a farmer, and starting her own family, Heaphy said. 

She had always been very supportive with pupils and their parents, and had played an active role in the community. "She's one of those very passionate type teachers," Heaphy said. 

She was a hard worker, an "exuberant" teacher, and she enjoyed looking after PE and the arts, always playing a big part in helping the school musicals go ahead every second year, he said. 

The school currently had 27 pupils on its roll, he said. 

Anderson said she began at the school as a fulltime teacher before she had her three children – Annabelle, 31, Tim, 27 and Lucy, 26.  She has worked as a reliever and principal release since then.

Her mum was a teacher who loved children, and she followed suit.  "I just love being with the children and seeing them grow and achieve," she said.  

"Every day is different, every day is a good day." 

The curriculum had changed quite a bit since Anderson first started teaching, and she had been proactive in keeping her knowledge up with recent developments. 

"We're always trying to better ourselves and give the children the best we can."

Just because the children came from a small school did not mean they missed out on things children at bigger schools might do, she said. 

"We give them as much as we can in experience.

"While we can't form a rugby team, we can still give the child the skills to play rugby," she said. 

Anderson enjoyed the school ski trips they took, in spite of not skiing herself while with the children. 

"It's an awesome day. The environment up there just makes you come home on a high." 

Something else she enjoyed doing was helping stage the school musicals, and she was busy working on their upcoming show about penguins. 

"I just love doing the musicals ... I always think every child has something to give."

FAVOURITE TEACHER AWARDS REGIONAL WINNERS

Northland: Jenny Bassett
Auckland: Bex Rose
Bay of Plenty: Scott Feisst
Waikato: Richard Lloyd
Hawkes Bay/East Cape: Janene Maloney​
Taranaki: Sue Gunn
​Manawatu/Whanganui: Heidi Lutz
Wellington: Matt Johnston
Nelson: Trina Wilkinson
Marlborough: Robyn Anderson
Canterbury/West Coast: Carmen Street
​South Canterbury/Otago: Di Anderson
Southland: Elaine Forde

 - Sunday Star Times

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