A day in the life of ... Carl P. Lander

Collaboration, kindness and generosity form the cornerstones of this teacher's life on Tristan da Cunha, the world's most remote inhabited island, where he's known affectionately as 'Mr Carl'

Tes Editorial

A large gong sounds repeatedly. I glance at my watch and it is 6am. Everything around me suggests normality: wardrobe, television, clothes laid out, warm carpet underfoot. Still in a morning daze, I pull back the curtains and an expanse of blue ocean fills my vision.

Reality hits: I am not in Epping in England but on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, the world's remotest inhabited island. The gong was to let the settlement know that today is a fishing day. People I have known only a matter of weeks, but already consider to be good friends, make their way down to the boats. The island is an incredible community and it feels as though we have always lived here.

I rouse my two children, aged 8 and 10. Once the house is in motion, I leave for work. On the doorstep I find a bag of potatoes and a side of beef. Those familiar with ubuntu (a quality that includes the virtues of compassion and humanity) will understand. The islanders have a strong spirit of sharing. When an animal is slaughtered, it is parcelled out. I live here and am therefore a part of that community. When people hand gifts to us directly, our Western way of thinking means we can make a mental note to "owe" them. That is not the case here. Gifts are frequent and not considered gifts at all.

My early morning theorising on this practice soon evaporates with the sound of cows in the garden. The children are shouting "bulls" and commotion reigns. As I head off to school, I suggest that tonight we close the garden gate.

I pass men and women opening up various workshops. The fishermen are now long gone and the people who remain go about their business, whether in the mechanic's yard, the post office, the plumber's shed or, in my case, the school. Everyone has a role to fill or the community cannot function.

As I wander into the school and turn the lights on, I glance across to the adjacent classroom and beyond to the huge volcano that dominates the view. Before long, the bustle of normal school life begins. Chantelle, who makes up Class 1, smiles and says, "Good morning, Mr Carl."

Lessons come and go, just like back home, although here there are three to five students in a class and each class spans two year groups. We follow the English national curriculum, except when Mr Paul, the site manager, takes the children up to the agriculture department, which kindly shares its greenhouses with us. There we plant, care, cultivate and make seed boxes from offcuts of wood and old crates.

At 2pm the bell rings. By 2.01pm the school is a ghost town - even my own children have fled. They will turn up in time for bed, fed by friends and full of stories. When the morning's tasks are done, the proper day's work can begin: helping on the land or assisting the fishermen. Life is about cultivating crops, caring for animals and sorting the day's catch. Survival on this remote island demands it. Today I am taken fishing.

As twilight descends and I make my way home, fish over my shoulder, I notice six rock lobsters on the front step. Gazing around, I say "thank you" to no one in particular.

Carl Lander is keen to hear from teachers or graduates seeking to extend their knowledge, who could spend anything from four months to a year on the island in return for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Email education-advisor@tdc-gov.com


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