"It’s been a blast," is how Roger Bell describes the last 18 years at St Paul’s as he retired from the school in December 2020.
He will be remembered as a top Biology teacher, but also for his extensive involvement outside the classroom as a soccer coach, teacher in charge of swimming, and assistant Housemaster of Harington House.
“I don’t know where 18 years have gone, I think that is systematic of the fact, this is a very busy place. The weeks roar past and the terms roar past,” he said.
There have been many highlights, in his long tenure as Head of Biology, including seeing students of varying abilities, succeed at school and in life. A standout would be one of his top students, 2018 Dux and Auckland medical school student Alice Cao, being selected for the prestigious New Zealand International Bio Olympiad.
“Sure, we get some really capable kids, but it takes a lot of work to get them up to that next level.” He felt immense pride seeing students like Alice gain national scholarships. He says the biggest joy has been with students who are “the real strugglers,” who he referred to in his retirement speech as “my pinecones.” “And these are the kids that have that rough exterior and they have been cast aside a bit. Left on the ground. But they have this amazing potential inside them to grow a forest as they are full of seeds.”
“Sometimes when you take that little bit of care or notice of some of those kids it makes a huge difference to their lives, going that little bit extra for them.” “And that is what I think is one of the hallmarks here, teachers here are prepared to go that extra distance.”
Another moment he recalled was when a former student visited the school unexpectedly to see him.
“She was now a paediatrician coming to a conference in Hamilton. She said ‘I just wanted to call in and say thank you as you steered me in the right direction.’”
“It’s those things that make a huge difference. There have been lots of vets and lots of doctors and lots of scientists over the years.”
Roger has a lifelong love of the outdoors and this came through in his teaching – in the classroom and on biology field trips to places like Raglan and Jubilee Park. “I love nature and wildlife and plants and animals. It just absorbed me totally as a kid and right through schooling and into teaching.” He spent many years coaching soccer, having many successes, most notably with the school’s first XI girls’ team; and was key in establishing and growing the school’s elite swimming programme. He was involved in pastoral care with Harington House for 15 years, mainly as assistant Housemaster.
Retirement from 44 years of teaching (he had been at Cambridge High School for 20 years), was short lived. The week he left St Paul’s he was approached by Hamilton’s Sacred Heart Girls’ College and asked to step in part-time to cover a maternity leave vacancy, teaching biology to senior students this year.
Roger and his wife, who live in Claudelands, plan to retire to their holiday home in Kawhia. He would also like to indulge in his many hobbies, which include landscape photography, woodwork, and “jobs around the house,” as well as spend more time with their children and grandchildren.