Thailand Reflections

Tan the motorbike taxi driver

Tan the friendly motorbike taxi driver

They often say that you won’t live anywhere better in the world as an expat than in Thailand, the Land of Smiles.  Having now lived and worked here for over 15 years I have definitely seen many people come and go, such is the transient nature of the expat and especially international teachers.  One thing that I have noticed is that people do usually return to Thailand, whether it is to visit friends, to holiday or to work again.  I had no idea what was in store for me or what to expect from the Thai people, their culture and their kingdom when I first left for Thailand in 1999.  I know that we will return, Thailand is our home, the place where I got married and also where my three children were born.  It is of course going to be difficult to leave and let go of the many pleasures that we have become accustomed to and take for granted but we also realise that it is time to re-connect with another home, we like to think that we are becoming a global family.

Love that Thinglish!

Love that Thinglish!

My oldest son likes to compare new countries that he visits with Thailand, to observe what is similar and what is different.  He is going to be in shock mid-November in the north west of England when the obvious differences hit him!  What makes Thailand such an amazing place is how easy it is, especially for families.  The Thai people are so welcoming and they love young children.  I will miss speaking Thai with them and getting myself into trouble as I get lost beyond the second sentences of a conversation.  I admire their appreciation and tolerance of a foreigner making the effort though, especially my local barber who I have had the same conversation with (in Thai) four times a year for the last eight years.

What a sandwich!

What a sandwich!

The Thai food is awesome of course but I have to say that one of my all time favourite discoveries on arriving in Thailand was Au Bon Pain.  The chocolate croissants are to die for and the steak and swiss cheese sandwich is mega – I couldn’t believe it when I found out they delivered as well!  I have had two of the sandwiches this week for old times sake and savored them as much as I did in the early bachelorhood days when they were part of the daily diet.  Au Bon Pain always got my mothers blessing as well whenever she visited as she always said, “they making a piping hot cup of tea.”

Ciao Khun John's

Ciao Khun John’s

The first place I ever drank a beer in Thailand was Khun John’s restaurant on the banks of Lake Mabprachan.  The Friday football lads took me there after my first sub-tropical kick-about and I had no idea where I was – I knew I was almost dying of heat stroke though.  The Heineken came in these huge bottles and seemed to be bottomless.  All I can remember is that I was told not to eat or drink after midnight as I had an important medical the next day.  The following Monday I got a note in my tray informing me I had failed the medical and had to attend another one that coming weekend.  I didn’t go to Khun John’s after football that Friday!  I have been many times since though as it is a family favourite eating place.  Any Thai food you want, it is tasty, quick and good value.  We went for the last time this week and coincidentally the waiter told us that Khun John has apparently sold up (after all these years) and it will become an Italian restaurant next month.  I can’t imagine Thailand without Khun John’s it has been a constant in our lives.

The shop that sells everything

The shop that sells everything

I am looking forward to the UK village shop again and buying a daily newspaper and a bag of Walkers Crisps (I have got to stop saying chips… and candies… and cookies) but it is not going to be Janya Mart.  There is something special about the Thai family shop that sells everything.  It is sad that a lot have struggled to survive since Seven Eleven has swept across the country but there are still a number out there and I always make the effort to use them.  Janya Mart is our local village shop and it is one of the best ways to connect with the local community and to use your Thai.  It is set up (like all other Thai family shops) to focus on social interaction with benches and tables outside and always an array of tempting snacks to choose from – it is the hub of the community.  You can buy a beer at anytime of the day, sit down on the bench and watch the Thai world go by. You can even drive your motorbike up to the shop and fill it up with petrol from a selection of bottles usually precariously placed on a wooden framed structure. Janya Mart has been a regular calling point for the last eight years and I will miss the interaction and constant smiling faces of both Janya and Nui who have witnessed our family grow and devour – God knows how many ice lollies!  I have explained to them that we are leaving on Monday but I am not sure if they have really understood, I will pop in before we go, wai, thank them and say goodbye.

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15 Years of Stuff!

Where is the Ark?

Where is the Ark?

To read this post with sound effects click here.

One of my favourite movies of all time and also an excellent final scene, although apparently it is mostly a painting, is the vast warehouse we see two men wheeling a large box into before the final credits of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Somewhere amongst the thousands of boxes the Ark of the Covenant has been hidden safely away by the government forever (or has it?) much to our hero Indiana Jones’ frustration.  Well I have news for ‘Indie’ the Ark of the Covenant could very well be on a ship somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean as this was a similar (not painted) scene in our Thai house not so long ago when we had the packers and shippers in.

Which one is it?

Which one is it?

I came to Thailand in 1999, over 15 years ago, to teach computers to primary students for two years.  I promised my mother I would be back in Derbyshire before she knew it! Now 15 years later I am finally returning home, back to the UK; with a wife, three children and 91 boxes of stuff!  I can’t believe it, where did it all come from and what are we going to do with it in the UK?

Stuff!

Stuff!

To be honest I am a bit embarrassed about it and we keep saying to each other, my wife and I – why on earth did we ship that?  During the last few weeks that we have been without our 91 boxes of stuff, things so important and vital that we felt they needed to be shipped half way around the world, there is only one item that has been consistently missed and commented on by all in the family.  The toaster!!  We do miss our toaster.

There it goes...

There it goes…

My own reflections during this transition process have made me realise how much material possessions we accumulate, especially just returning from Vietnam and spending time with family there and seeing how simple but easy daily life can be.  I know it is a cliche but who is actually happier?  In fact both sets of family are probably just as happy but I know which one has the more complicated life.  The irony is that we are going to have to keep most of our stuff in the 91 boxes for the best part of 6 months until we find somewhere big enough to live permanently and then move it all again – but this time just up the road.  I hope my wife remembers which box she packed the toaster in!

See you in 6 weeks!

See you in 6 weeks!

Thinking about (our) stuff and the pressures of consumerism reminded me of a couple of resources that I would like to share on this post, I have used them both on numerous occasions in the past for Geography lessons and also Global Citizenship workshops / sessions, take a look – I hope you like them:

The Story of Stuff.

Hungry Planet: What the world eats.

 

 

Reflecting on the start of a new adventure

Being reflective

Being reflective

I am Manoj Chapagain, 19 years old and I am from Nepal.  After spending five years in Thailand; where I not only got my high school IB Diploma but I also had the time of my life. It was honestly the best experience so far because not only did I get my education but I also met so many people who helped to shape my life in a different way.  I got the opportunity to travel to many places and many other experiences which will always be part of my nostalgia.

manoj

I am currently a freshman at Westminster College, in the United States, Missouri, Fulton.  The life in Fulton is very different to my high school in Thailand. My school was near the city, which was designed for tourists, so there were lots of activities to do. Whereas here in Fulton, there is not much to do at all and it is a very small town.

Taking in the local sport

Taking in the local sport

College life is very different than I had imagined, you have got a lot of free time and you have to make sure that you do everything that is necessary for you to do. Which I am finding not very easy as I was used to relying upon someone telling me what to do during my high schooling in the boarding house, etc. Not only that, college is tougher than I though it would be.

Westminster Campus

Westminster Campus

 

This semester I am doing Spanish, Ethics and academic writing and a few others which are one credit classes.  They are all very interesting and challenging but the most challenging for me is Ethics. Ethics is a very interesting subject, I have learned about social norms and different perspectives of different ethics.  It can be very challenging because it requires a lot of reading and it can be hard to understand the main concept at times.

New friends (Frat boys?)

New friends (Frat boys?)

I am enjoying the experiences so far and I have made a couple of very good friends who I know are going to be life time friends already. I have also joined a Frat, I thought it would be a good way to experience American culture by joining the Frat, because it is one of the big traditions in colleges for many years.

Submitted by Manoj Chapagain; Being Reflective, Global Mentor Award

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Constructive paranoia

a convoy of cousins

a convoy of cousins

During my time in Vietnam and meeting new family I have been thinking a lot about a term that I read recently in a book by Jared Diamond.  The book is:  The World Until Yesterday, and is all about what we can learn from traditional societies.  The term he used was constructive paranoia and he used it often to describe a cautious approach that people living in traditional societies adopt to avoid danger or potential death even though to us it may seem an extremely low risk or even paranoid.  An example Diamond used was when he (frequently) stayed with communities in New Guinea and that they never slept under old trees at night for the fear that they may fall down and crush them.  Although the likelihood is small on a particular night, if you were to sleep under trees every night as many Guineans do then the chances of an old tree eventually falling down and crushing you increases, therefore the most constructive long-term approach is to avoid them altogether as sleeping shelters.

easy riders

easy riders

If you had asked me before our visit to Vietnam if I would allow my kids to ride on motorbikes in a country where there seems to be little regulation on the roads I (and especially my wife) would have said no way!  Nothing paranoid about that, just a total agreement that motorbikes are to be avoided if possible in countries like Vietnam and Thailand where the accidents involving motorbike accidents are high.  It is difficult though when you arrive in a situation that is totally new to you and you suddenly find yourself in the hands of your hosts who so happen to be family.  Things happen fast and people are speaking in a language that you don’t understand but you can start to gather an idea from the body language, gestures and the accumulation of motorbikes around you and triple the amount of helmets needed per motorbike!

walking in the river to the sand dunes

walking in the river to the sand dunes

Of course you think fast and make eye contact with your wife (and mother of your children) to quickly reassess the situation.  The cousins are all excited though and so enthusiastic to see you and show you around – they really want to take their new family guests to the beach.  The kids are all excited as well, the chance to ride a motorbike is a complete novelty to them and they of course believe they are indestructible.  Your heart says go with the flow but your brain is telling you that this is not a good idea and to think it through a bit more.  There is also the culture factor – do you stand your ground based on a mental risk assessment and possibly offend people that you have just met and are putting you up in their home.  Or do you shift your perspective and realise this is how people commute in Vietnam, everyone does it – you are placed on a motorbike days after birth!  Are we going to just sit in the house and feel safe and walk everywhere?

a flying sand dune in Mui Ne

a flying sand dune in Mui Ne

I know my wife’s feelings about motorbikes and what surprised me most was that she understood that this was an important time to go with the flow and to enjoy the cultural experience.  This doesn’t mean we should be neglectful of risk, still be risk aware – paranoid enough to be constructive but not averse to the opportunity.  We made sure that everyone is wearing helmets the right size and that the most experienced motorcyclists were in control of the bikes.  The cousins soon got the message that we were happy with the situation but alert to the potential risks in a subtle way.  They drove at a good speed and we always felt very safe without us having to say anything to them.

Mui Ne

Mui Ne

We ended up using the motorbikes everyday while we were in Phan Theit and Mui Ne and the family were over generous in their desire to transport us around and to spend time with us – telling us what time they would meet us and pick us up each day.  We could of course taken taxis but this would have been less sociable and not as an authentic way to see the country, plus the kids really loved their motorbike experience and each one had their favorite cousin to ride with – often sandwiched in between Oanh or myself!  If we had opted not to embrace this opportunity we would definitely have missed out on three amazing days visiting; the Flying Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, eating fresh crab on the beach, shallow river walking through a sandstone gorge, a sunset over Mui Ne bay and most importantly of all making close and honest bonds with special family members.

 

 

Getting to know your family

old photos

old photos

I met Oanh almost 15 years ago in Thailand where we were both working as teachers. Over 35 years ago she left Vietnam as a small child with her father, mother, three siblings and members of her mother’s family in a small boat seeking refugee in a new country following the war that ravaged Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. Many thousands of ‘boat people’ didn’t make the treacherous journey into the South China Sea and were sadly lost to storms and piracy.  Oanh and her family were picked up out at sea by a Thai shipping vessel and were taken to Thailand where they were granted asylum and stayed in a refugee camp for a number of months before being flown to Australia and welcomed as new citizens to that country.  Oanh’s father tells me that his family were the first Vietnamese to settle in the New South Wales city of Newcastle and they have lived there ever since. His wife’s family moved to Queensland in Australia and his family remained in post war Vietnam and he has not seen them since they left that dark night in the small boat.

Family lunch

Family lunch

To be able to come to Vietnam and to meet my wife and children’s family and to get to know them has been a huge privilege and I am thankful and excited that they will have such welcoming and caring family to connect with in this part of the world for the rest of their lives.  Oanh and I keep suggesting to Jonah that he has the ideal base for a ‘gap year’ when he has finished school – but I don’t think he realises the value of this quite yet.

I have taken a back seat during our visit and left Oanh to get on with all the conversation and catching up.  They definitely have plenty to talk about!  It has been great for myself and the children to see her in full Vietnamese flow and using her native language.  It has encouraged the kids and I to also learn more Vietnamese and to use it with the family.  Jonah especially has made a good go of it and has been improving his Vietnamese numbers on a daily basis.  I have loads of questions to ask about each uncle, aunty and cousin but need to bide my time and I am enjoying just trying to make the connections and map the intricate network of families through my own observations.

Coconuts are a good way to break the ice

Coconuts are a good way to break the ice

Food is such a central focus of Vietnamese (and other countries in SE Asia) culture and social cohesion. Whenever we return to Australia to see Oanh’s parents we are always treated to a Vietnamese culinary delight, it has been the same here in Vietnam staying with her family. Oanh explains that it is the way in which they show love and affection. In fact Oanh’s mum says the secret to cooking good food is to think of the person who you are cooking it for, as it helps ‘flavour’ the food!  My children especially like the coconuts that Aunty Tam brings out for them mid-morning for a snack.  I wonder if they have brought them specially for our visit and are treating them?  They probably are.   Their love of children and family are obvious.

cousins on the beach

cousins on the beach

It has been good watching our children interact and gain in confidence with their relatives.  They have grown affectionately close to a number of the older cousins and there have been plenty of hugs going around.  Some of the cousins have their own children of similar age to ours and it didn’t take long for them all to start playing together and causing chaos around the house – language (or lack thereof) is not a barrier as it seems to me that you only need to learn a first name and then everything else is universal.

Jonah with chu Hat

Jonah with Chu Hat

We have been staying with one of Oanh’s aunts, BaTam, her husband Chu Hat and a couple of their daughters ( I think they have eight children in total – I know one daughter is a nun in Italy and the youngest two are twins who are studying in Saigon).  It has been great staying there and getting to know them and we have really appreciated their hospitality and kindness.  Chu Hat works especially hard for a construction company and has already left for work when we wake up in the morning and doesn’t finish at the end of the day until late.  He does pop home for lunch though and is always smiley and chatty (he speaks some English) and has a beer with me!  The two daughters that we have met are a great credit to them and it has been lovely getting to know both Thien and Nhung, I hope we see them again soon in the near future.

Zoe getting her hair done (again!) this time with Yung and Jonah

Zoe getting her hair done (again!) this time with Nhung and Jonah

It is hard not to reflect and to think about the ‘what ifs’ when learning about the past and the present in such an authentic way. I am looking forward to asking Oanh all the questions I have stored up over the last few days as we head back to Thailand.  I am sure she has done much reflecting herself and I will be keen to discover how her memories and perceptions have changed since her first return visit.  I wonder if one day we could or should live and work in Vietnam or if my children will ever consider the possibility when they are older?

Phan Thiet Beach and the Pacific Ocean

35 years years ago on Phan Thiet Beach my future father in-law made the courageous but decision to leave his country, his home and his family and took those he could out into the Pacific Ocean to seek refuge.  The fates of many lives were certainly held in the balance during that one night. I am certainly grateful that despite Oanh’s father’s paralysing fears of death and the responsibility he felt for so many lives that night, and the deep sadness for leaving the country of his birth that the quest for searching for a better future for his children over-rode those fears.  Life would have been very different if he had not done so, not only for Oanh and her family but also for me as I wonder if I would have ever met Oanh if they had not left?  As Jonah realised, “So I would not have been born if Ong had not left Vietnam?”

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Vietnam

Why is mum's maiden name on all the street signs?

Why is mum’s maiden name on all the street signs?


This is my fifth visit to Vietnam.  I had the good fortune to spend five weeks travelling through Vietnam over 14 years ago and have also been to the South East Asian country to play rugby and for work on a number of occasions.  I have always enjoyed my time in Vietnam and been in awe of the people and fascinated by the culture and history of the country.  This most recent visit is extra special though as it is the first time we have been able to come as a family and to meet family members that I thought we may never get the chance to meet (my wife was born in Vietnam). We have taken the opportunity to bring our three children to Vietnam and to allow them to discover and understand an important part of their cultural heritage hoping that in the future they too will want to return and visit by themselves or with their own young families.

we love our Pho - noodles

we love our Pho – noodles


We spent our first two days in Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.  As soon as we had checked into our hotel we followed mum on a crusade to find the yummiest Pho noodles in the district, she had already quizzed the taxi driver and the reception staff at the hotel on where to find the best place.  I do wonder how they can decide the best though when you see the sign for ‘Pho’ everywhere in the city.  We love our Pho and are treated to it at home usually once a week and of course when we visit Oanh’s family back in Australia but there is nothing like eating steaming hot beef noodles on the street in Saigon – we had been thinking about it all the way over on the plane, and yes, they were delicious.  The little shop also had a couple of guinea pigs outside on the street which was a bonus as they kept the two youngest entertained whilst waiting for their Pho to cool down.

guinea pigs

guinea pigs


Saigon is an intriguing city with plenty going on and to observe.  Negotiating the traffic as a pedestrian is something to get used to, especially when walking with three young children.  The mass swarm of motorbikes that flow around the city streets seem to do so without any rules or regulations, it amazes me that there are not more accidents but they seem to have this understanding of where they are going and how to avoid each other – a bit like birds or fish in motion – but using their horns a lot!  When you cross the road you have to be confident and go for it (making sure you have everyone with you) – any slight hesitation and you could be in big trouble.  Of course on longer trips around the city it is a lot easier and safer to take a taxi and my kids loved the fact that the taxis had extra seats in the very back where they could sit by themselves.

I love taxis

I love taxis


Other than eating yummy Vietnamese food, which we are very good at, we also visited some good friends who are living and working in Vietnam.  It is always good to catch up with people you know well but haven’t seen for a long time and find out what they have been up to.  Especially when they have a lovely apartment with a swimming pool on the roof and a great view over the city and the Saigon River.  Jonah kept asking me if it was the Mekong River, which was good that he made the connection with Laos, but I had to point out that the Mekong would be much bigger as it came to the end of its journey at the coast of Vietnam.

The Saigon River

The Saigon River


We have a very early start the next day as we have to catch the train to Phan Thiet, a coastal city where Oanh’s family live and come from.  We are all very excited and are not sure what to expect – it is over 10 years since Oanh visited by herself.  We know we are coming back to Saigon at the end of the week for a couple more days and Jonah and I are keen to do some historical tours and the girls some shopping.  Sam wants to go and see the guinea pigs again!


 

From ice to rice continued…

Jonah and Zoe giving their rice to Nui

Jonah and Zoe giving their rice to Nui

Who has their eyes on Nui’s ice-cream?

Our good friend in Angola, Robyn Fox, came up with the idea of the (bag of) rice challenge – instead of wasting precious water in Angola and doing the ice bucket challenge Robyn suggested donating a bag of rice to someone instead.  A wonderful example of thinking outside the box and being ‘innovative and proactive’, maybe we will see a GC Award submission from Robyn in the near future… an exemplar global mentor!

The girls getting their hair washed

I was nominated by Sarah Travis-Mulford to do the rice challenge after she had made her of rice to the Hand to Hand Foundation.  I have also been encouraging my two oldest children to do the ice bucket challenge ever since I nominated them in Sukhothai a number of weeks ago when I did the ALS ice bucket challenge – they have managed to avoid it all around the north of Thailand and Laos!  

Today they dipped into their own pocket money though and instead of suffering the shock of ice cold water agreed to buy a large bag of rice each and both chose to donate it to our friend Khun Nui.  We spent a lovely lunch and afternoon with Nui; Jonah’s highlight being ice-creams and Zoe’s having her hair washed and blow dried!You can read Jonah’s version of his rice challenge here.  He has now nominated: Morgan Howard, Ben Harrison and Nampetch Bennett for the rice rice challenge (see my nominations below).

I actually took my bag of rice to the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre last week and gave it to Kru Wannee.  I did explain to her what it is all about and I think she understood, I am sure it will all be eaten up and enjoyed either way.  Now it is my turn to nominate three people for the rice challenge and I choose: Karen Partyka, Sego Mokgothu and Sara Menges.  Three people in three different countries (Scotland, South Africa and the US), it will be interesting to hear back from them and finding out how they got on and who they have passed the rice challenge on to.

Kru Wannee accepting my bag of rice for the Fountain of Life

Kru Wannee accepting my bag of rice for the Fountain of Life

The Fountain of Life Children’s Centre with Kru Wannee

signmottokids2


The Fountain of Life Children’s Centre was the very first community partner that I was fortunate to engage with and learn from when I arrived to live and work in Thailand back in 1999.  It is a learning day centre for young children that do not (or cannot) go to Thai school, especially for children of migrant workers who have no ‘identity’ in Thailand. The centre was founded and is coordinated by the Good Shepherd Foundation, a group of amazing Catholic sisters who are dedicated to improving the education opportunities and living standards of children (and women) across South East Asia.

care4kidslogo

The centre is largely funded by the Jesters Care for Kids, a community based group that raises funds and supports development projects specifically for young people in the Pattaya and Chonburi area.  The highlight of their busy calendar being the Jester’s Fair that takes place once a year in early September.

Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children's Centre

Sabrina at the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre.

I have taken many student and teacher groups to the centre to learn with the children and staff there.  For a number of years part of our school induction programme for new staff involved a visit to the Fountain of Life and meeting the children and staff.  We always challenged the new teachers to immediately engage with the children and to find out who they are, where they come from and what their dreams are – language should never be a barrier or obstacle when learning through service and creating sustainable community partnerships.  The Fountain of Life also visited our school regularly and were included in numerous activities, projects and whole school events.  As part of the community partner programme at the school the Fountain of Life became the permanent learning partner and integrated into the curriculum planning for Year 1.

The Fountain of Life Centre

The Fountain of Life Centre

I have also taken many visitors to the Fountain of Life through work as well as personal friends.  Kru Wannee, the head teacher at the centre, is always very welcoming and understands the importance of community engagement and support.  The children enjoy meeting new people and learning where you come from.  They are always keen to demonstrate their English and sing songs or draw pictures with you.  The centre also makes a wide range of impressive handicraft items, for example cards, which are for sale and the proceeds support the running costs of the centre.

Kru Wannee on the left

Kru Wannee on the left

Kru Wannee is an amazing teacher and lead learner and another inspiring community leader whom I always look up to and try to learn from.  She has an extremely calm and reassuring manner and loves the work she does at the Fountain of Life for the children and her team of teachers.  She is a dedicated and passionate Thai educator and an amazing role model.  I asked her a few questions about her role and what education in Thailand means to her, please see below:

Why did you become a teacher? I would like to help poor children.  I love the children and teaching is a great job.  I really do love this occupation.

What do you think makes a good education? You must teach the children to do it themselves. Allow the children to have a good quarity of life and help them see the value of having a social mind and helping other people. Making sure that all the children can access education who are without  documentation or are from a different country.

What is special about the Fountain of Life Children’s Centre? All of the children have the right to development at the Fountain of life. The Senior staff and children have equality.  We give the power and opportunity and expect respect from the staff, parents and children. We work within a network to protect every child.

How can people support the Fountain of Life? Be a volunteer. Donate money in the bankbook and the office in Pattaya. Promote the center and tell people you know. Do activities with the children and take them on outings. Donate money for education.

What advice would you give people about living and working in Thailand? If you have time you can help us to play games  and sport  with the children and contact Sr.Jimjit or Sr.Joan. You can teach English or handicrafts once a week. Invite the people to visit the center. Contact other people to help the children and raise the funds to support us. Love the city and country you stay in and always help that area.

Are (old) school reports useful?

photo 3 (2)


I was sorting out the filing cabinet at home the other day at the same time looking for that vital form that you need to claim back some sort of insurance.  It is never easy to throw things away and sometimes you wonder why you hang on to random nostalgia from the past, it is as though there is an emotional bond and a difficulty to let go.  So the easiest thing to do is file it away at the back of a draw or at the bottom of a box and ultimately forget about it.  Until you stumble across it again de-cluttering hence I found my old school reports from my days as a student at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

photo 1

I quickly flicked through them and then started to read some of the comments reflecting back on my time as a learner at school and the way I must have been perceived by my own teachers.  I enjoyed school and thinking back had good teachers that supported me and tried their best to help me fulfill my potential.  Reading through the comments on the report you can tell which teachers really knew you though and understood your personality, your strengths and also your areas for development.  Being a teacher myself and having written – in fact typed – a great number of reports it is always important to demonstrate the uniqueness of each individual student and make that connection with them and their parents, I believe this provides confidence and reassurance that the learning relationship is genuine and that the teacher is doing the best they can to ensure that particular student succeeds.  Teaching is all about engagement and relationships.

Mr. Westerman, my old Head of Year, obviously knew me well through our learning engagements (he also led the school orchestra – I used to play the saxophone!). Looking back over his comments on my school report I like the way his writing style demonstrated he knew me but is also confident in getting a serious message across.  I am also impressed by his big picture approach with regard to education and learning as he talks about  the ‘package’ that includes good subject passes but also the importance of developing ‘personality’ and ‘appearance.’  How many interviews have you had where the interviewers have asked about your subjects or grades?  They say 33% of bosses know if they will hire someone in the first 90 seconds.

Graduating class from Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Ashbourne, 1995

Graduating class from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Ashbourne, 1995

What about my peers who studied with me at the same school?  Where have their subject grades, personalities and appearances taken them?  Which one of those three elements has been the most important factor?  Did or do they ever reflect on their school reports and experiences during random moments of de-cluttering?  I hope they are achieving life success and happiness wherever they are.  Maybe one of them will interview me or you one day…

photo 2 (1)

You may like to read some funny sentences taken from actual school reports in the UK and submitted to the Telegraph newspaper here.  They made me smile and think about the next set of reports I will have to write.

My last reflection is an acknowledgement to Mrs. Forbes who was my form tutor and Geography teacher during secondary school and I guess a big factor in me becoming a Geography teacher.  Looking back at these reports I noticed that her comments and feedback were always personal with serious targets for improvement and written in a confident manner, she was not afraid to drop me down a grade either.  This must have motivated me as from what I recall she was the teacher I least wanted to let down – and I hope I haven’t… thank you Mrs. Forbes for inspiring me to be a geographer and teaching me how to be a better teacher.

Game, set and tears!

I can't see over the net!

I can’t see over the net!


The other day I posted some thoughts on the learning state referred to as ‘flow‘ and made a connection to cycling and my own personal observations of my two oldest children taking to cycling.  The reason I did this is because I have been impressed with their development and growth in confidence and ability as cyclists.  My four year old daughter has now cycled over 12 kms in one go with no gears on her small pink bike and her little legs going like the clappers up and down hills.  Her skill and ability has definitely been matched by the challenge and resilience required resulting in a rewarding outcome for all.

Keep your eye on the ball!

Keep your eye on the ball!

We have been trying tennis as a family and sometimes take the family rackets with us on a more casual bike ride or walk.  Unfortunately though, we are a long way off any state of ‘flow’ with our tennis experience.  Although everyone is very keen and excited at first it is not long until the tears appear and their patience is being lost.  Why is this the case?  Tennis is just a bit of fun, trying to hit a ball over a net, we are not expecting Wimbledon champions (yet).  Obviously tennis is proving to be a lot more frustrating though and requires a different range of skill sets.  Maybe my wife and I (we are know Agassi and Graf by the way!) are not the best tennis coaches either and the children can easily spot this.  Where have my teaching skills gone and why am I also getting frustrated and losing my patience with my own children – there is only so many times you can say ‘watch the ball!

Even the ball boy is too slow!

Even the ball boy is too slow!

I find myself often reflecting on my parenthood qualities and why, as someone that has taught young people (both primary and secondary age) for more than 15 years, do I often fail as a teacher within my own home and family environment?  It is not that my children expect a teacher, they want a father and of course I try the best I can and I am still learning everyday with every challenge that they throw my (our) way.  Teaching is about going above and beyond for every student and that is something that I always strive to do and achieve, it is not easy and takes a big time commitment but why else would you go into the teaching profession if you weren’t prepared to do that?

What a volley

What a volley

Parenting is an even bigger (life) commitment and of course you want to go above and beyond for your own children but have to do this over a more prolonged period of time and make sure that you get the balance right.  You can’t be a world class parent all of the time and you can’t always expect your children to ‘flow.’  A good friend said to me the other the day: you have to choose your battles with your own children – you can’t win them all, there are many phases that they are going to go through – let them explore and discover the highs and lows.  Always support them and help them to gain in confidence, there are many different games to be played but not everyone will be a winner but there will always be many points to learn from.  They will eventually discover which sets to go for and it is our job as parents (and teachers) to make sure they ultimately play a winning match and be successful in life.