Au Revoir by Mrs. Stark

Posted on: 29/11/2019

As I read Mrs. Drummond’s blog last week with its ‘retirement wish list’, my thoughts turned to my own imminent retirement. At the end of this term I will be retiring from my position as Deputy Head after a long and happy association with the school.

I joined St. Helen’s College over 20 years ago as a part-time French teacher and it is true to say that things were very different here back then. For one thing, French was the only language taught in the school and it was taught only during timetabled lessons. I am very proud that I have been able, during my time at the school, to introduce Spanish and Latin to the curriculum, to help with establishing co-curricular language clubs and to introduce the Eurotalk competition (now called uTalk) which gives Upper School children a chance to learn even more languages and compete online against other language learners from across the United Kingdom.

Language teaching is most certainly not the only area of change I have seen during my time at St. Helen’s. The buildings and facilities at the school have developed apace over the last 20 years; the Upper School building’s first floor has been extended to add an extra classroom and enlarge those already there, libraries have been established at both Lower and Upper School, Ducklings Kindergarten has opened, an Art Studio has been built, a Business Office has been established and the kitchen and refectory have been added so that children may have meals cooked for them at school. The dining experience now is a far cry from how it was back then, when the children each had to unfold an embroidered napkin (often embroidered during their sewing lessons), then lay out their packed lunches at their desks and eat in silence! Recorder cases were also stitched, and some classes had home-sewn ‘chair bags’ in which pupils kept their belongings.

In my early days, some year groups only had one class and there was just one teacher per class from Year 3 onwards. The pupil roll has increased to two classes per year group and we are so lucky, now, that the staff body has grown to include more specialist teachers and such a big team of teaching and learning assistants. Having more staff means that we can offer more opportunities to the pupils and one opportunity which I am particularly proud to have introduced is the annual Year 6 trip to the Chateau de la Baudonniere in Normandy, France. About 15 years ago, Mr. Crehan and I travelled to France for a ‘recce’ and, having enjoyed the French culture (and cuisine!) so much ourselves, we were determined that St. Helen’s College pupils should benefit from an immersive language experience in such a beautiful setting. The trip was established, and I have accompanied the Year 6 children on their trip every year since then. I am delighted that this is always a highlight for the children and that we have fostered close relationships with the local community and the local primary school there.

As my own children grew older, I moved from part time teacher of French to full time class teacher, spending many years as a Year 5 class teacher and a few years as a Year 6 teacher and becoming Deputy Head over 10 years ago. My roles have meant working closely with the staff across the whole school, and at Upper School in particular, and I have enjoyed close working relationships and friendships with so many talented and enthusiastic colleagues over the years – including, at various times, my own children! My daughter Laura is a teacher herself and has done some supply teaching here, and my son Chris worked in Funtasia and Holiday Club during his sixth form and university years. I must say that it has been a privilege to work alongside such a diverse, positive and friendly group of people. There have been so many meals out, holiday meet-ups, drinks receptions and Christmas parties and I have memories to cherish of wonderful times with colleagues and friends. There have been sad times, too, with the loss of colleagues to cancer in particular. I am proud to have been able to establish the school’s relationship with and ongoing commitment to Cancer Research UK’s Relay for Life. In the years we have been taking part in this event, the school has raised tens of thousands of pounds for Cancer Research. I am enormously thankful to all of the staff, parents, pupils and friends who have been involved with this over the years, and I am hopeful that this association will continue into the future as we continue to fight cancer together.

The work that we have undertaken together in support of Relay for Life is just one expression of the St. Helen’s College spirit. Certainly much has changed over the past 20 years, but it is true to say that much has also remained the same. The heart of St. Helen’s College still beats strong; the school’s family ethos and traditional values still underpin all that goes on here. The well-being and personal development of the pupils is still given the highest priority by both staff and parents; love, kindness and tolerance remain the most important of the values that we teach. This is why I have remained with the school for so many years - it has been genuinely inspiring to work in a school with such a strong heart and virtuous purpose.

Over the years I have taught thousands of pupils from hundreds of families; some of my earliest pupils are, in fact, now parents themselves. I would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all of the parents who have chosen St. Helen’s College over the course of my time here and showed me such trust and such kindness. To the pupils, I would like to say thank you for making my working life such a joy. I have seen so many children grow and develop into fine young people and I am pleased to be able to retire feeling confident that the future is bright!

We all become teachers because we want to make a difference, and I am happy and proud to be retiring as Deputy Head feeling that I have been able to do that. I am handing over the Deputy Head baton to Mr. McLaughlin in the certain knowledge that he will use the role to drive forward change, to uphold the traditional St. Helen’s College values and to make a positive difference too.

This is not goodbye, as I will be returning to St. Helen’s College in January for one day per week as a part-time French teacher, ending my journey here just as I began it all those years ago. So, for now, I shall simply say ‘Au revoir’.

Mrs. Stark