9 December 2016 – As 2016 draws to a close, Saints Andrew’s says goodbye to Charles Hansen after three decades of outstanding service to the school.
Going back to the beginning, before he became a teacher, Charles was working in commerce in Queenstown, but it wasn’t something that he enjoyed. “I wanted to carry on with my subject. I enjoyed my subject. I enjoyed my area of interest,” he said this week. That subject was biology.
A life sciences’ teacher, Charles Hansen described himself as a “tree-hugger” before this photo was taken recently.,
His home province was Natal, as it was then known, and he looked hard for a post in it without luck. Then he found an advertisement for something in Bloemfontein that looked worthwhile. Even then, though, it was with some reluctance that he considered it.
He admitted: “When I first looked at it, I thought there is no way I am going to Bloemfontein. But it was what was available at the time, so that’s why I ended up coming to Bloem.”
Minimal knowledge of Saint Andrew’s
Charles also knew “practically nothing” about Saint Andrew’s, but he was persuaded to take a leap of faith. “It was the charisma of a guy like Roy Gordon, who sets you up to come and gives you confidence to come. The interesting thing was that he had only just arrived in Bloemfontein.”
He was very warmly received at Saints, Charles said, by the Headmaster and his family and the staff.
“It didn’t take much time to settle in. I didn’t find it difficult. I had obviously made up my mind that this is where I was going to go. The fact that we had to start in Bloemfontein was something that I accepted quite quickly, and I think that Saint Andrew’s gives you the environment where you can get comfortable if you are contributing.
“I was in a situation where I hadn’t been settled, so I had made my mind up that I wanted to find a place and stick it out there, come hell or high water. There wasn’t much hell and high water, fortunately! Prior to that, I hadn’t been settled, with Army and going into commerce, swapping around a little bit, with a family in tow. Coming up to Bloem, it was really a case of making a go of it. And I was happy to do that.”
A happy staff made life at Saint Andrew’s good.
As with so many Saint Andrew’s staff members, Charles quickly became involved with many activities outside of the classroom. This included coaching sport. “I think getting involved with coaching sport helped a lot [in helping me to get the most out of the school]. I had the immediate involvement with the class situation and the sport situation, so it was year-round, because it was cricket and it was rugby,” he said.
“The moment I found my feet, then I got involved with the hostels, doing hostel duty, and I was involved with Webb House very early on.”
When Charles started at Saints in 1987, the school had more boarders than day boys. Now that situation has turned around, with day boys now significantly outnumbering day boys.
Considering the change, he said: “I think it has been quite a sobering experience, because it is something that we staked ourselves on at the beginning, saying that we have a strong hostel set-up, this is where a lot of our school’s strength lies. The numbers have now swopped around, where the day boys outnumber the boarders. It happened imperceptibly at the beginning. I don’t see it reversing itself in the near future.”
While the composition of Saints has changed, the traditions of a school that is over 150 years old help to keep it on the right path, Charles said.
The traditions of Saint Andrew’s
“Maintaining traditions at Saint Andrew’s is very important. Fortunately, Saint Andrew’s has traditions outside of the hostels, which it is able to keep going. I think those are amazing and fantastic, not least of which is our Old Boys’ set-up.”
There are some things that set Saints apart, he added: “I think it is the feeling that you get here, from the staff and boys’ perspective. It is not just a job. You have friends. And you are working amongst those friends. That’s what makes it more than a school. It makes it into a place where you belong.”
Charles described the pleasure he has found in seeing his past pupils doing well as “immense, absolutely immense”.
“It’s really is very, very rewarding to see guys who have been moulded for the better. You come to realise that the school has a big role to play in that.
“The success of the school has a lot to do with the way in which Saints’ teachers commit to so much more than their contracts require. It is the same as a successful team. There has to be a return on your buy-in. If your return on that buy-in is one where you feel socially comfortable among your friends, it is one where you want to be.”
After being presented with a Colts’ cricket cap by Gregg Hobson for his many years of service to the team and a gift from the Headmaster, Charles Hansen showed them off at a staff lunch at Slightly Nutty.
Charles also praised former Headmaster Roy Gordon for the role he played in leading the school. He explained: “Roy Gordon always had a little notice on his desk, which said on the one side ‘people matter’, and when you turned it around it said again ‘people matter here’.
“That sums up a lot of what Roy Gordon was about. He would be talking to you across his desk, and it could be some very serious stuff, but he brought in that idea that without the people being happy his school wasn’t going to get very far. He was able to encourage people to do their work in such a way that they were happy.”
Present Headmaster Chris Thomas had very large shoes to fill when he was appointed to succeed Roy Gordon, who had occupied the post for 21 years.
Charles recalled: “There was a lot of debate as to whether Saint Andrew’s needed somebody with different ideas, rather than the traditional. Perhaps I am a bit biased on that one, because I would be happy with the traditional and happy with somebody who knows the scene, who is probably going to do things without causing too many waves. There is no reason why he can’t bring in his own ideas, as somebody like Chris Thomas has done.”
A leading biology and life sciences department
The thing that will stay and means the most to him, he said, was running a successful biology department for so long. As the Headmaster pointed out on 9 December, Charles’ biology and life sciences marks consistently placed Saint Andrew’s among the leading schools in the province.
“It warms my heart, and I can’t recall a subject failure in life sciences while I’ve been here. Hopefully that can be maintained. It is maintained by what the school stands for. It has to be an academic institution first and foremost. That has to be your primary priority.
“Outside of that [biology], I would go to the sport. Things like being involved with the Colts’ cricket for many years was very rewarding,” Charles said.
After a long, hot day on leadership camp with boys out at Donkerpoort, Gregg Hobson and Charles Hansen found a good way to relax. More of those days await Charles.
Although he will no longer be a teacher, he revealed he would still be involved with assisting some Saints’ boys, including those who have been put onto fast-tracking programmes, to help them get the best out of their abilities.
His new home will be in Saint Francis Bay in the Eastern Cape, where there is an active Old Boys’ scene and Charles would like to be involved with it.
“I would like to play any sort of role that I might be able to play or am equipped to play, if I am asked,” he concluded.