The thread that binds us

The importance of school spirit and belonging can never be underestimated for students and teachers alike, writes Junior School Coordinator of Sports, Mr Tom Crebbin.

“If you want to discover new oceans you must be prepared to lose sight of the shore.”

One of my favourite quotes of inspiration that challenged me to leave behind my organised and trusted lifestyle and take on the unknown. It wasn’t really a difficult decision back at the end of Term 3 in 2012 to  follow my wife to Belgium as she moved to head office with her Pharmaceutical company.

I knew I was leaving a good school at St Catherine’s, where I had enjoyed eight years of enthusiastic Junior School children who loved playing sport, representing their School and improving their fitness, however, the lure of Europe and the chance to teach in another country was consuming.

Before landing in Brussels I had researched the large number of International and European Schools in the city and felt there would be many opportunities for a native English speaking teacher. Brussels hosts the EU Commission and EU Parliament, so there are many ex-pats living in Brussels, all wanting their children to be taught in English, as it is seen as the “universal language”.  I had sent several CV’s to a number of schools in advance without receiving a response, but decided after a few days after arrival I would visit a few schools and introduce myself.

The first school I visited was close to where we were living and after five minutes chatting to the secretary I found myself in the Principal’s office being presented with the possibility of teaching Year 2, covering for a teacher on sick leave.

I started work the very next day. Being in the classroom, rather than a sports field, was different for me, but I soon found that children are children whatever the country they are from and “we all smile in the same language” as their motto stated.

Following this position I moved to the European School in Uccle which was a school for the many EU workers from all over Europe that called Brussels their home. The school’s most famous alumni was Boris Johnson, Lord Mayor of London from 2008 to May 2016, and now, following Brexit is UK Foreign Secretary.

In the primary school we had around 250 students in Year 6. Each country of the EU had a classroom or two. In one corridor you could have a Spanish classroom, a Danish classroom, two English classrooms, a Slovenian classroom, a German classroom and several French classrooms. It was the United Nations of schools with students all being taught their own curriculum, in their own classroom, by teachers largely recruited from their country of origin. The campus went from Year 2 to Year 12, with 5,000 students on-site in a similar campus size to St Catherine’s.

I have never witnessed such a mix of cultures and languages in such close proximity, yet in a strange way, it seemed to work. The students of every class had to learn a second language other than their own, with the most popular being English as it is easily the “default language” for most people in the international world.

I found myself teaching English as a Second Language for much of my time in the European school and an average class would consist of four Spanish, four German, four Italian, four Danish, two Slovenian and four Dutch. Just for the record – the Danish seem to be the most fluent in English – whilst the French children may have the neatest hand writing, they are the most reluctant to learn English.

The school day was long with classes starting at 8.15am and finishing at 4.00pm with most of the afternoon devoted to electives where nationalities combined to pursue art, board games, dance and many other activities. In sport, football (soccer) was the go-to sport and every inch of the playground was consumed with a game to the point where pitches crossed each other, yet the games went on. The soccer intensity reached an all-time high during the World Cup of 2014.

With not any green grass in the school and 5,000 students from Prep to Year 12 it was an amazing institution. The school employed 500 workers and not a week went by without some nationality celebrating their national day and providing the rest of the staff with their home grown wine or traditional cuisine.

Teaching in an International School and learning the cultures of different students was a rewarding experience. However, my time overseas also highlighted the importance of having strong school spirit and a sense of belonging to a school community. It made me miss, and appreciate my time at St Catherine’s.

On my return to St Catherine’s I now, more than ever, appreciate our School assemblies, providing students, teachers and parents a time to celebrate achievement and recognise effort. The size of classes at St Catherine’s also allows teachers to establish real connections with students and the fluidity of our campus and timetabling allows educators and students to gain the best outcomes and choices.

So when it is all said and done “I left the shore, crossed some oceans, experienced some interesting weather and returned with a new perspective on how nice the beach is at St Catherine’s.”

Mr Tom Crebbin

Junior School Coordinator of Sport

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