Expat Insight: Running An International School

Expat Insight: Running An International School

A day with the head of the VHS location of the HSV International Primary School in The Hague

Written by Beata Imans based on an interview with Judith Preston

Judith Preston, 58, originally from England, came to the Netherlands on a two-year-contract 28 years ago. She is head of the new location of the Haagsche Schoolvereeniging (HSV) International Primary School in The Hague. She loves reading and Scandinavian detective series, and lives with her partner Peter.

Judith Preston

My day starts with an alarm clock that is set for 6:30am, but I’m normally awake and turn it off before it gets the chance to ring. I don’t have a problem getting up because I think I have one of the best jobs in the world.

The first thing I do is turn on my coffee machine; coffee is my best friend in the morning. I quickly jump into the shower and I’m at my phone at 6:45am when my teachers can call in sick. After I know we have teachers for the day I enjoy my leisurely breakfast, I don’t like to rush it. Then I’m on my bike for a 15-minute ride to school.

I like living in Holland and I like The Hague, it’s not big but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic at all. It’s on the beach and I like going to the beach, I love the sea.

I speak Dutch, but it’s hard to learn the language here because people don’t let you practice as most of them speak English quite fluently. I started learning Dutch when I worked in Nigeria at a school that was half-Dutch half-English. By the time I came to Holland, I understood the sounds around me and it wasn’t a strange language, which helped. My partner is Dutch and we speak Dutch at home, although his English is very good. I like languages and I like to speak the language of the country I’m in. I even try when I go on holiday, in that sense it’s a bit of a hobby.

I have to be at school at 8:00am and I start by putting out the day routines and new things on the board so everyone sees what’s changed. Everything is planned well ahead, so changes can have impact on teachers and especially the children. Then I do my rounds in the school making sure everyone is happy and well in the classroom and ready to go for the day.

When I was young, I wanted to be a policewoman or a teacher. To be a teacher I had to study, so I did that first just in case I opted to be a teacher and then I took to it straight away. I trained in the U.K. and have an education degree with a practical qualification. After I did my first two jobs in the U.K., I moved to Germany and Nigeria. Later I wanted to go back to Europe, so I applied to schools in the Netherlands, and I got a two-year contract at the British School. 28 years later I’m still here, even though I never intended to stay.

I had different jobs since I came here: I had a language training business and I worked for Shell International as the global education advisor. But I really wanted to get back into teaching, so about 12 years ago I started working at one of the HSV schools.

When the local authorities asked the HSV to set up a new school to help the many people arriving that couldn’t find a place for their children, I applied for the job and I got to open and run the new Van Heutszstraat (VHS) location this year. The new building and new community was a big attraction for me. We started something from scratch and this is really special and great; I feel so lucky to do it.

Around 8:15am, the families start to arrive and I like to be out and about or in the hall to greet everyone and have a chat. At 8:30am the older children go to their lessons and the younger children start to arrive, so we have the second batch of families to speak to.

My experience of working with expat families has helped in the position I am now. I meet people who made choices that are not always easy and moving children around the world is not always the best thing to do. Many of them feel very guilty about decisions they made, especially if it doesn’t work, so it’s good if you can contribute to solutions because it helps everybody, and especially the child. Sometimes you have to say ‘you haven’t made the right choice’ and the best would be to go back home, because that’s where we can help your child… and people don’t always want to hear that. They are away from home, from their network, so generally we take on a supporting role and do our best to help. And often people just want someone to listen to them.

By 9am everyone is in and settled, I have spoken to everyone I need to speak to, and the parents had a chance to see me. I check if there is anything urgent that needs dealing with. I have meetings about children and with children. I see every class once a week at some stage during the day and we have a chat about life and about how we can help solve the world’s problems.

I make sure I get into the classroom, otherwise I miss it too much – I’m not a behind-the-desk type head of school. I don’t have a class, I don’t teach, but I do spend time with the children because that’s the way I can successfully keep in touch with them and through them with their parents – we are in it together. I have an amazing team of teachers; we’ve grown so much since the start and it’s been a wonderful experience. That’s why it’s easy to get up in the morning.

Routine meetings, reading emails and articles, finding out things from my colleagues from other locations take me up to 10am, then it’s break time and I have a chance to meet the team in the staff room over a coffee.

After lunch, at 1pm, the quiet time starts again, so I can do my office stuff, or I go once more around classrooms. I like to get in to see the children learning and to help the teachers if they need it or just to get some feedback. Then at 3pm the families start to arrive again to pick up the children and I have another chance to see parents that want to meet with me.

Once the school has gone quiet and children have gone home, we have our team meetings either here or at one of the other HSV locations. I try to leave the school at 5pm, because there isn’t really a defined end, so you have to essentially create an end. I shop on the way home, trying to decide what I will have for dinner. Sometimes I do a yoga class or Pilates, or I go for a little run. I come home and cook, have a glass of wine while I’m cooking, talk about the day with my partner, and enjoy a meal. Sometimes we watch the news to make sure we know what’s up in the world and so I can keep up a conversation with my family back home. I don’t watch television very much but I like to watch documentaries or detective programs, especially Scandinavian ones, I find it relaxing. I like to read, so I read every evening. I tend to go to bed early and don’t stay up after 10pm. And that’s it; then the cycle starts again.

Copyright © 2019 Global Living Magazine. All rights reserved.Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Global Living Magazine is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Global Living Magazine and www.globallivingmagazine.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Comments are closed.