“Even though we think that people understand when we are talking to them and that they are on the same page as we are, that is not necessarily so, and sometimes the stress of the situation can cause them to do all sorts of strange things, so perhaps we should make much more allowance, especially if they are in our classroom.”
Early in our interview, Lou recalls a misunderstanding he had at Westown Primary school in New Plymouth in 1957, when he and his family were recently arrived refugee immigrants to New Zealand from Hungary. In hindsight, Lou puts the misunderstanding down to his own lack of English at the time – a simple breakdown in communication – and the reflection is revealing because it directly relates to the special insight and compassion he was able to later bring to his career working with international students.
Lou Borok has been a much-loved and enormously prominent teacher and leader at Westlake Boys’ High School (WBHS) over the past 45 years. Beginning his career in 1976, he taught a range of subjects, including English, Latin, French and Social Studies, and filled many different roles; he was Head of Languages for 14 years and a Senior Dean for 12. He was also a prominent fixture in the extra-curricular life of the school over that time, coaching and managing many sports and teams including the First XI Football side for several seasons.
Lou played an instrumental role in the establishment of an ESOL department at WBHS and was made Director of International Students in 1995. At that time WBHS had only 20 international students; by 2004, this number had ballooned to 192. Lou’s efforts in this role brought transformative change, helping to create a positive fundamental shift in the school’s landscape and operation. In acknowledgement of Lou’s tireless work over his career, the school’s soon to be completed, state-of-the-art Languages Building will be named in his honour.
“Right from the beginning I wanted to be a teacher, despite all my friends saying that it paid very poorly and ‘what the hell do you want to do that for?’ But it was something I really wanted to do and I’m extremely glad I kept to that.”
Lou Borok with Dave Smale