19 June 2018 – Deryn Soldo joined the teaching staff at Saint Andrew’s at the beginning of the second term. It was a new post for her, but the territory was anything but unfamiliar. We had a sit down and chat with Deryn about her Saints’ connections and her path to a school that is very close to her heart:
Deryn’s links to Saint Andrew’s extend back to her school days, when she was a learner and boarder at Saint Michael’s, the sister school to Saints. Her family lived in Bloemfontein and she attended SMS, excepting for a break of two years, in 1982/83, when they moved to Mafikeng.
She returned to SMS in standard six, or grade eight as it is called today. "My brother was in standard nine when I came back," she said, referring to Neil Ashman, who matriculated in 1985.
"When he was in matric, he was a prefect in Storey House, and those were all my sort of peers. I don't think he was very popular!" she smiled. Neil, though, did a fine job and was also the Head Chorister and Dux scholar. Her elder brother, Barry, had finished at Saints in 1981.
Saint Andrew's English teachers Deryn Soldo and Kerry Gower
Deryn was very actively involved with Saint Andrew’s during her school days and had a number of boyfriends from Saints!
After completing her schooling, she didn’t take a direct path into teaching. In fact, her description for that part of her journey was “round-about”.
Explaining, she said: “I took a year off 'to find myself'. Then I went to Rhodes and did a BA in drama and journalism. When I finished that, I got a job at what was then Bop TV and Radio Bop. I was a journalist there for three years, in Mafikeng. That was 1994, when there were upheavals and rioting, and I decided I was going to try my luck overseas. I left in 1995, because both of my brothers were in London."
In the English capital, Deryn worked as a secretary, living in what she described as a “dodgy area”.
"And then I decided I wanted to come back home. I phoned my mom and said I am coming back home and I am going to teach. I had just had enough. I was also about 27, 28 years old and I wanted to come home. I was tired of London."
Deryn had studied drama, so took that on as a teaching subject. She had also studied history I, so did history II through Unisa, while at the same time doing her Higher Diploma in Education (HDE), now known as the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
Her first teaching post was at King Edward VII School (KES) in Johannesburg. She spent three years there and enjoyed it.
"My first teaching experience was awesome"
"My first teaching experience was awesome. I loved the boys! KES is a huge school and they had up to a G class in every single grade. I pretty much had the G class. I must profess, I adored them. They were so generous once they decided that they liked you. Then it was okay."
Deryn wasn’t surviving on a teacher’s salary, however, especially as she had a student loan to pay off. Thus, when an offer to move back into journalism with Highveld 94.7 came her way, she took it.
While still a journalist, she met her future husband when she joined an old school friend on a trip to Bloemfontein, which, ironically, was for a get-together of Old Boys at Saint Andrew’s!
"She said 'let me introduce you to my friend', and that was my husband, Vinko."
"Everything just fell into place"
Within a few months, Deryn had moved to Bloemfontein. "Everything just fell into place. I had never experienced that before."
There were, of course, other matters to take into account: "Work was a consideration. At that stage, I had found out that OFM was looking for a news reader and writer, so I joined OFM for six months.
"The problem was I had come from Joburg, where not a word of Afrikaans was spoken, and I had lived in England for three years. I could speak Afrikaans, but I couldn't write it, and they needed someone that could read and write English and Afrikaans. At that stage, I was just writing and reading the English bulletins.
"Then, out of the blue, I receive an email from Don Paine at Eunice, who told me Eunice is looking for an English teacher and I should apply. He didn't even know I was a teacher. He had heard me on OFM. I don't even know how he got my email address.
"It was like manna from Heaven"
"It was like manna from Heaven. I went for the interview and I started teaching at Eunice from the beginning of 2006."
It took some time to adjust to teaching girls, with her previous experience having been of teaching boys, but while there were some differences, there were also some similarities, Deryn said. "A teenager is still a teenager, whether it's a girl or a boy. They have slightly different responses to things."
After a very successful time at Eunice, she decided that she would like to again take on the challenge of teaching boys when a post became available at Saint Andrew’s.
Deryn Soldo's younger brother, Neil, was, among other things, a star academic at Saint Andrew's
"I was coming home"
Her first day was memorable, she recalled: "That first morning that I sat in Chapel and they sang the school song felt like I was coming home, because I had heard that hymn so many times in that Chapel before.
"I felt this is good, this is what it is supposed to be. Just to hear the voices of the boys made me very emotional. I realised that first week that I had made the right decision, that leaving Eunice was not bad.
"It was good for me, it was good for my son [Davor], who loves having me here. He told his teacher repeatedly that his mommy's in the high school. He runs across at the end of a day just to check that I am alright. I thought that it would be to ask me for money to go to the tuckshop! But no. He just wants to come and give me a hug, and then he runs out again. I am glad to be here."
Appreciation of good, old traditions
Deryn said she appreciates Saints’ focus on keeping good, old traditions alive: "I really love and appreciate that the ethos of Saint Andrew's is still the same. The Chapel is still a focal point. The boys are still taught to be gentlemen, to greet. I am 'ma'amed' from the moment I leave my car to the moment I get to my class. I like that. I appreciate the fact that the boys recognise that I am walking past them. It is nice to know that that is still there, that all the traditions of Saint Andrew's play a focal point and are important.
"In that way, I can see that Saints hasn't changed. Yes, the teachers have changed and the boys have changed. Some teachers haven't! It does my heart glad to see that it is still the Saint Andrew's that I remember from 30 years ago."
And while there are many similarities to when she was in school, Deryn admitted that much has changed too: "When my brother was here, the junior school boarding house was still in the Jagger Block and the new hostels hadn't even been built yet. I still remember dropping him at the old Storey House.
"When we dropped Barry off in standard eight, he wasn't in the main hostel. He was in Champion Dorm, next to the dining hall. There have been building changes, but I don't think there have been essential changes to the traditions and the ethos of the school."
Deryn is teaching English and history to boys from grades 8 to 10