Who got that job?

8th May 2009 at 01:00
Ever wondered who got a job you saw advertised in The TESS? Jimmy Maxwell leaves the Highlands for the coast of Israel

Jimmy Maxwell had spent 19 "wonderful years" as a chemistry teacher at Invergordon Academy. From New Stevenston in North Lanarkshire, he was settled in the Highlands.

Then the 46-year-old heard about an intriguing job advertised by the Church of Scotland. It was seeking a French or chemistry teacher - for a school in Israel. Mr Maxwell, an active member of the kirk, was concerned that few people would be able to apply and initially considered throwing in his hat as an altruistic gesture. He was unmarried with no children to worry about, so he was able to make the five-year commitment expected.

But the more he thought about it, the more he wanted the job: after years of contentment, and never having lived abroad, the challenge of the unknown appealed. (He laughs in recollection of former colleagues who claimed the truth was that he wanted to duck out of an imminent HMIE visit).

The Church of Scotland, long ago, used to run many schools abroad; now only Tabeetha School, in Jaffa, remains. It was opened as a school for girls of all faiths in 1863 by Scotswoman Jane Walker-Arnott, in her house. It moved into a Turkish Ottoman-style building in 1875, a couple of streets from the shoreline where Jonah is said to have set sail, with the help of travel agent Thomas Cook. The Church took responsibility for it in 1912, after the death of its founder, and today acts as an education authority.

Most of the 400-odd pupils in the school, now co-educational, are Christian - including some Palestinians - but there is a sizeable minority of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Druze and people of no religious faith. "There's an amazing mix," Mr Maxwell says.

The school wears its Christian and Scottish roots lightly - lessons are based on the English curriculum - although a Saltire was flown in defiance of Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. There is an emphasis on common bonds rather than ethnic differences, and reconciliation work is part of the requirement for the leaving certificate. Mostly, pupils learn to get along by working together in class.

Though the school is English-speaking, Mr Maxwell has had to start a crash course in Hebrew, a daunting prospect given a smattering of French is his only other language. He is, however, enjoying being an absolute beginner, which he believes will help him appreciate the needs of pupils: "From an educational point of view, it's quite humbling to be put in a position where you're the learner."

He is also learning about security measures so that he can react in case of emergency, although the area around the school in Old Jaffa, as he has explained to his worried mother, has been peaceful for two years.

Henry Hepburn.

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