In the highly detached world of professional football, it was player transfer deadline day yesterday. Pretty much like any other day in the football calendar, it's a day played out to a back-drop of over-spending, disconnectedness, and a blurred definition of loyalty. Powerful people in suits decide who comes and goes, and the poor manager or head coach (he or she of the definitive day-to-day responsibility) is left to pick up the pieces and assemble a functioning and successful team from the group of individuals.
Starting a new academic year in an international school can feel somewhat similar. Thankfully, in the innocent world of primary school education, the connectedness between vocation and reality is usually stronger, and, depending upon the school, the powerful people in suits are less of an interference. However, as classroom teachers we're still left with a few dilemmas that would be all too familiar to a football team manager.
Firstly, there's the core of the squad. The bulk of the class who were together in Pre-School last year. They're familiar with each other, they're good friends, and have an innate sense of each others strengths, weaknesses, and know how to play together. In the worlds of football and international schooling, change is the only constant, and very rarely a player like John Terry comes along and pledges his life to one club. The same is true of the families we work with. The vast majority of mums and dads arrive with resumes reflecting that of Mario Balotelli; a year there, a year here, a year back there, a fresh start somewhere else, and then move on again, complete with a contract terms and haircut afresh.
At short notice (we get the official class lists just 2 days before classes start), we're given the names on paper. Names who will determine the success of the season to come. They're names of players who are yet to meet each other, let alone play together. In addition to last campaigns nucleus, there's a flamboyant South American (all late bedtimes and loud voices), a straight-faced German who has seemingly been there and done it all before (he may struggle to fit in but his discipline will come into fruition during the frantic Christmas production period). The scouting network (reports from previous schools and teachers) warn of ill-behaviour, volatile characters, and potential clashes. Eternal gratitude is what I extend to my assistant, loyal colleague and pillar of support for three seasons.
Following the in-formal and friendly warm-up matches (the first week of half-days for Pre-Kindergarten), back to school night comes around and we face the media (our new class parents). Questions come like quick fire. Everything needs to be known and understood immediately, and several languages hum around a packed media room (school theatre).
As we move into September, we begin to breathe and find rhythm. That first big away match is tackled and overcome (the Pre-Kindergarten field trip to the apple orchard). Later, October will bring the scrutinising eye of a live match on satellite TV (the first parent teacher conferences). November inevitably brings the first injury crises to the squad (winter sickness and flu set in). As we enter the busiest period of the year, Christmas, we're inevitably left with a team lacking in match fitness and delirious on being over-tired. Following a much-needed winter break, Spring sees the team showing their true colours, hitting peak form, and finding a joyous rhythm. Finally, coaching and teaching points are heard, and understood. March, April, and May are the golden months. The team is unstoppable, goals are achieved, and fans and parents are happy. Then, inevitably, as we head into the final weeks of the season, motivation dips as the players know their contracts are up soon, and wont be renewed. The children will all either be shipped out to Kindergarten, or wind up at another school (club) all together. The same fate may await us, or maybe we're lucky enough to stay. Perhaps out agent (international school recruitment company) can tempt us by finding a tax-free gig in the Middle East somewhere.
In football as in international education, the season and academic year move fast. So enjoy the ride.