St Edward’s School, Oxford (or ‘Teddies’ as it is affectionately known), has announced Alastair Chirnside (OD 1989) current Deputy Head at Harrow School, London, as their 14th Warden. Alastair will take up post at Teddies at the beginning of the new academic year, in September 2021. This Christmas Term, we spoke with Alastair and asked him to share his advice with current Dragons starting at senior school.
Moving on to Your Next School: Some Advice for Dragons, From an Old Dragon
Alastair Chirnside (OD 1989)
He was sitting behind his desk on a dais high above us. Leaning against the wall, an African hunting spear threatened silently. We feared for the hapless boy who knocked on the door a few minutes later. The teacher took out his gold pocket watch, paused for effect, and said very simply: “You’re late.”
We make very vivid memories when we start at our senior schools. I can remember my first night of boarding and that first Latin lesson as if they were yesterday. The Upper Sixth didn’t seem like children at all – they looked old enough to have children of their own. But those older boys gave me excellent advice – ‘read as much as you can’ – and that teacher inspired me to be a classicist. The unlucky boy went on to become a headmaster too. No one else was ever late.
Happily, starting at senior school is much easier now. Even before you arrive, there are experience days and social events. Take full advantage of them, to get to know some of the other pupils and staff. A few familiar faces will make a big difference. Familiarity with the place is important too, so try to visit your new school as much as you can.
Even in your first year, you’ll have to make a lot of choices, so think carefully about them in advance: which subjects to study, which sports to try, which activities to sign up for. Don’t let those decisions come as a surprise and take as much advice as you can.
There will be other, bigger decisions in the future too. At Teddies, for example, you’ll need to choose which of the new Pathways and Perspectives courses to study alongside your GCSEs, and eventually whether to take A levels or the International Baccalaureate. In your first year, you should try as many different things as possible, so that your later choices are fully informed.
“Hard work will take you over most hurdles. Belief in yourself can do the rest.”
You will have more independence, with fewer people telling you what to do or where to go. Your new teachers are likely to be less interested if you have lost the key to your tuckbox or recently found your pencil case (two real-life examples from my Boarding House), so practise taking responsibility at home and at school.
There will be some incredibly talented children at school with you, and you might start to think that you are not measuring up. Don’t judge yourself against the wrong standard; remember that you are talented too. Most importantly, don’t forget that not all qualities are measured with grades, distinctions, or prizes. Kindness, for example, is its own reward.
I always found Maths very hard, but I learnt one useful equation: time = grades. Hard work will take you over most hurdles. Belief in yourself can do the rest. After all, before Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, no one thought it could be done. Within two years, half a dozen runners had managed it.
Think back to the start of your time at the Dragon: friendships will have ebbed and flowed. That will happen at your new school too. Life-long friends will be somewhere in the first assembly with you, just as they were sitting in my first Latin lesson. You might not meet them straightaway, but you will find them more quickly with a smile.
“… in everything and with everyone, the most important thing is to be yourself.”
Changing schools gives you a chance for a new start. If you have made mistakes, they will not come with you. If you want to reinvent yourself by trying new things, you can. But in everything and with everyone, the most important thing is to be yourself. After all, if you try to be someone else, who will be you?