Teacher and Writer
MUSINGS ON MILESTONES
11 June 2016
As I am writing this, it is almost 5 pm on Saturday, 11 June 2016.
Precisely two years ago, on Wednesday, 11 June 2014, 5 pm Sydney time, I had a Skype interview for my job in Australia. I vividly remember every detail: it was 8 am in the UK, I was sitting on my sofa in my Housemistress flat at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, I was nervous (I had never done a Skype interview before) and I did not know what I should hope for: I had a safe and secure career in the UK, I had just been made permanent in my role, and suddenly, having boldly expressed an interest in the position, Australia seemed scarily far away.
My interview lasted for 1 ½ hours, with four people on the interviewing panel, and we discussed a variety of aspects of the role: pastoral care, the implementation of a new tutor system, academic reporting procedures, the philosophy of the IB and many more. The next morning I received the phone call and the mind-blowing news that the job was mine if I wanted it. The rest, as they say, is history.
The next six months, while I worked out my notice period in the UK, were like a whirlwind: so many formalities to deal with, a visa to apply for, first documents to prepare for the new role, such as a guide for tutors, email exchanges with my boss-to-be, moving the contents of my Scottish flat into storage, getting it ready for rental while applying to be a registered Scottish landlord, the big move to Sydney to prepare for – these were busy but exhilarating times.
In October 2014 I visited Sydney and my new workplace for the first time – and I fell in love with the city and my new school. Lovely and helpful colleagues, friendly and open-minded students, my first on-stage interview with some lovely girls in Junior and Senior School Assemblies – and suddenly it all felt real. I could not wait to start and when I arrived in the heat of January 2015, I threw myself into the role with all the energy I could muster. I worked hard and gave it my best. With views from my office to die for, I could not have wished for more supportive colleagues or more courteous and intelligent girls to teach and care for.
Reflecting on the significance of this milestone for me personally made me think about the significance of milestones in general, and also about the unpredictability of life. This was actually the theme of my first assembly talk at Queenwood when I told the girls about the often random course my life had taken. The message I tried to impart first and foremost was that it is impossible to plan your life ahead: there can be twists and turns at every corner. We often think of milestones in a formulaic way: starting school, graduating from university, getting married, having your first child etc. But often life has other plans, and many milestones come from chance encounters.
If I had not, during my university years at Konstanz, met the Headmaster of Salem School, I might never have heard of its brother school Gordonstoun in Scotland where I gained my first teaching and pastoral experience and discovered my vocation. Scotland also taught me a lot about Single Malts and long-distance walking: the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way are amazing experiences, and the Moray Firth, so close to beautiful beaches and mountains, must be one of the best places in the world.
If I had not received a random call from a fellow university student who told me about a Latin teaching vacancy in Milan where an old colleague of hers had become Headmaster, I might never have worked at the Swiss School Milan where I learned about the Italian Licenza Media and the Swiss Matura, travelled the country and acquired reasonable fluency in Italian. (This was also the first time in my career that the Headmaster himself met me at the train station when I arrived at the Stazione Centrale for interview, took me to a bar and bought me a Campari).
If I had not accepted the job at Bedford High School, I might never have heard of the International Baccalaureate, which has since played such a significant part in my career. There was another coincidence that came into play: I was in Scotland when I received the phonecall that I had been successful in my Bedford interview, and I was just about to travel south for two more job interviews: both for the role of Head of German, one at St Leonard's in St Andrews, and the other one at Wycombe Abbey School, one of the most prestigious schools in the UK. I would normally have given a holding reply to Bedford and attended the other interviews first. But when I received the call, it was snowing heavily in Elgin, and I had just heard on the news that my train journey would be seriously disrupted. I therefore decided to stay warm, cancel my train ticket and my interviews and accept on the spot. The interview had felt good, and I never regretted my decision, as I had five happy years at Bedford High in a fabulous Languages department.
At Queenswood School near London I was lucky to gain a lot of experience in swift succession, first as Boarding Housemistress, then as Higher Education/UCAS/Oxbridge adviser and finally in my first senior management role as Head of Sixth Form.
And if I had not accepted the maternity cover position of Sixth Form Housemistress at CLC, I would not have met the inspiring colleague who, two years ago to the day, offered me the position of Deputy Principal in Australia. Not in my wildest dreams would I have considered such a move before – for a European like me, Australia was situated somewhere between the Moon and Mars and completely out of reach. I am so grateful I got the chance.
Learning about the Australian school system and Australian politics, getting some insight into indigenous traditions and culture, listening to operas or concerts in Sydney Opera House, seeing parrots and pelicans in the wild, watching the spectacle that is Vivid Sydney, exploring the beautiful harbour walks from Spit to Manly or Bondi to Coogee - these are amazing opportunities.
I am not yet certain what the future holds in store but one thing is for sure: meticulously planning your life ahead is a futile exercise. I have seen and counselled so many anxious students who had concerns about their marks, their A-Level/HSC/IB grades, their university and course choice, their personal and professional future. They are confronted with a maze of opportunities that feels bewildering and confusing at times, and sometimes they seem to long for stability and predictability of their lives. The truth is: we never know what lies around the next corner and what turns and twists life holds in store for us.
The picture below will strike a chord with us all at some stage of our life, teenagers and adults alike. Let us not give up hope, and let us always give our best and be the best we can be. Nobody can ask any more of us. As the great philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson so rightly said: "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."