6 March 2018 – Nico Jurgensen began teaching in the high school at Saint Andrew’s this year, but he began his stint as a teacher at Saints in the junior school in 2017, when he filled in for his pregnant wife, Lizel.
Before he decided to move into education, Nico, whose cousins include 1987 Head Boy Greg Usher and 1990 Head Boy Brent Usher, was far removed from teaching. He worked for eight years as a professional guide in Africa. After leaving that field, he returned to South Africa to do a post graduate certificate in education (PGCE). Then he headed to Qatar to teach.
"I went over for just over three years. After one year, on holiday when I came back, I met Lizel. Things started developing and she came over to Qatar after a few months. We were there together for almost two years," he shared.
Saint Andrew's grade 7 Head, Nico Jurgensen
When he headed back home to South Africa, a return to teaching was not what he intended. "It wasn't planned. When I came back, I bought into a business, so I was busy with that and I left teaching for a while. But then I ended up selling the business, and it was at that exact time that I was looking for something else to do and Lizel was on maternity leave. She suggested I should help out a bit. Then I started here, and I am still here now!"
It has worked out very well, Nico reckoned: "I didn't want to come back to teaching in South Africa if it wasn't at the right school. My mind was changed when it was for Saints."
Teaching in Dubai vs teaching at Saints
Standing in for half-a-year in the junior school for his wife was enjoyable, Nico said: "It was a great experience, because in Qatar I also taught grade five science. But those schools over there have no tradition. There is no pride in their schools. You basically go and you teach a lesson. Discipline is very bad and you have got to make your own plan to deal with discipline in those schools. That's why they've got such a big turnover there. Teachers get fired every month.
"You've got to make your own plan. I managed to do that, but it is not fun teaching at a school like that. There are no assemblies, there's nothing. You just go to a class. Teach, and that's it. I didn't enjoy that part of it. That's also why we didn't want to stay that much longer. It's quite a hostile environment to work in.
"Coming back to a school like this, it was like heaven. It was so much easier, and it was fun teaching again. That's why I decided that in a school like this I will definitely teach."
A new challenge
The challenge in 2018 is different for Nico, now that he is teaching in the high school: "It's a bit different. I am enjoying it as well. I enjoy all the kids," he said.
"I am actually more qualified for the high school than the primary school, but the grade 7s are fun. They're still small enough to do things and not big enough to get up to mischief that much! They're 'inbetweeners', so I enjoy it quite a bit."
Nico teaches maths, technology, economic management science (EMS) and social sciences, which ensures his days are full. He admitted: "I am quite swamped with school work at the moment, so I am mostly busy with that, and I am also grade head of the grade 7s."
Working with one's wife
Looking ahead, Nico said he would like to stay at the school for the long-term, and working at the same institution as his wife is not a problem.
He explained: "It works out perfectly, because with the primary and the high school it feels like you are working in different places. We don't have a lot to do with each other during the day. I never see her! It works out perfectly. We worked together in Qatar, but you don't want to talk about the same things when you get home.
"We talk about different things about the school. Having been at the primary school also helps me to understand what happens there and how it is set up."
Differences between the high school and junior school
In the junior school the staff was overwhelmingly female, which was “fine”, Nico smiled, although “being left alone in the staff room can be overwhelming with all the chatting and the things going on there.”
He concluded: "In the high school, it is a lot more balanced. It's quite a big difference." Again, though, it is a positive experience.