I didn’t always want to be a teacher. I was interested enough as a teenager to do work experience at a primary school, but I didn’t see it as a career for me. I was certain that science was my future and, at 18, I left Saint Helena for the first time, embarking on an amazing experience, pursuing a degree in the subject and majoring in microbiology.
After graduating, I returned to the island and decided to give teaching a go. I’m so glad I did. I’ve been grateful ever since for the opportunities the job has given me to make a difference, study further and progress my career. I work at the island’s only secondary school, Prince Andrew School, as the deputy head of curriculum. We’re government maintained and adopt the English national curriculum at key stage 3, supplemented with local aspects, for example, in the history and geography curriculum.
While teaching on Saint Helena is mostly comparable with the UK – curriculum, school day, systems and policies are similar – some aspects are unique, such as field trips, which include humpback whale, whale shark and dolphin-watching excursions. These allow students to understand the responsibility they have for sustaining the rich, unspoilt marine environment on their doorsteps and the threats posed to it by modern-day living.
It can be difficult for our students to relate to much of the content on the English national curriculum. They often struggle with transport networks, historical events, local current affairs and recent advances in technology, which leaves them at a disadvantage. The internet has a significant role in addressing these challenges.
For KS3, average class sizes range from 16-20, but for GCSE options and A-level courses the number can be anything from one to 25, depending on the number of students opting for courses and whether they’re delivered by a classroom teacher or via a distance-learning platform.
'Visitors to the island talk to students'
Everyone has to be resourceful living here, and strong links within the community are vital. Teachers have to be adaptable, and we use the internet and YouTube videos to assist where resources aren’t available; and if a visitor to the island has a particular expertise or experiences, they’re often invited to talk to students.
We have many one-person departments, which makes exchanging ideas and views within your own subject area difficult. We do everything we can to make use of online forums or CPD opportunities within our specialist areas.
Overall, there isn’t anything significant I’d change about my job. Yes, there are days when I’m frustrated with a system or process, but I’m usually able to resolve issues accordingly. Our isolation means that I sometimes have to accept that some processes cannot be changed further, and I have to adapt to accommodate them.
Without doubt, the hardest part of my job is the school leavers’ assembly on the last day of term for Year 11 and 13 students. It’s always a significant event for me, as I’ve witnessed their journeys through school, some of which were more difficult than others…
On that day, even the most challenging students can bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye, as they leave to embark on their own adventures. For me, it’s also a time for reflection on my part in that journey.
Kerry Lawrence is deputy head of curriculum at Prince Andrew School in Francis Plain, Saint Helena. She was speaking to Richard Webber