A few years ago, while I was a primary headteacher and education officer in Glasgow, I decided to start saying “yes” to new opportunities. Adopting this approach led me to Kenya, rural Malawi and the Isle of Bute, and helped me to renew my joy in working directly with inspiring young people and staff.
A desire to learn more about other education systems (as well as turning 50) made me seek a teaching post in Italy, and in August 2015 I became the headteacher of Chatterbox English School in Cagliari, Sardinia.
My day begins at 6.15am when I put some coffee on the stove: I am embracing all things Italian, such as the seasonal fruit, seafood, architecture and outdoor living.
On the short bus journey from my flat at Poetto beach, I stand out like a sore thumb. I am taller, paler and far less stylish than the average Sardinian. But everyone is very friendly. It’s like Scotland in that respect.
I stand at the school gate to greet the parents and pupils with their enormous bags of books. It’s the best way to get to know everyone and deal with any issues quickly. Chatterbox is 15 years old and has an excellent reputation – it’s the only English-speaking school in Sardinia recognised by the government. The vast majority of families are Italian and I am pleased to be mixing with locals as well as expats.
We have two playschools based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, a Reception class and Years 1-5. We follow a combination of the English and Italian curriculum as our pupils go on to an Italian secondary. But with the exception of Italian, all classes are taught in English. Our success means we plan to open a middle school soon, so it’s an exciting time.
The classes are small and the children are friendly and well-mannered. I teach Year 1 and 2 social studies, and Year 3 science. It’s great to be back in a classroom, but I need to be super-organised and enthusiastic to keep up with the incredibly hard-working staff.
A quick spell in both dining rooms allows me to catch up with the pupils I haven’t taught, then it’s time to work with the dedicated and passionate senior leadership team. It’s good to be able to make our own decisions as an independent school – it saves so much time, enabling us to focus on the tasks that we believe are most important.
The culture here is very child-centred. Parents are enthusiastic about learning and bilingualism, and we have a tremendous amount of communication with them: this is a true learning partnership.
If I get out of school early enough, I visit old city cafes, go to the beach for an exhilarating swim in the crystal waters or cycle past the flamingos in the nearby Molentargius-Saline national park.
Cagliari comes alive in the evening. Apparently many English-speaking teachers favour big cities like Rome or Milan over Sardinia. I don’t know why. I’m glad I said “yes” to Sardinia.
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