High School: Where the fallen angel meets the rising ape

I was recently at an under 9s boys football tournament, supporting one of our teams. These are high energy events, as you can imagine, with hundreds of small boys charging around in semi-controlled fashion; a triumph of enthusiasm and innocence. Our long-suffering Coach never flags during the four matches that each team plays, and constantly shouts what are, to me, cryptic messages like ‘Clear your lines boys, clear your lines!” During one recent tournament, our team had lost 8-0, 6-0 and 2-0; in the fourth match it was 0-0 with 3 minutes to go, and standing beside Coach, I noted he was quite agitated, as the ball had passed, for the first time, and only momentarily, into the opponents’ half. Amidst the “square ball, square ball, lads!” calls, one boy on our team ran up to Coach on the sidelines, saying “Coach! Coach!” Coach glanced away from the scrum (rugby and football being strikingly similar for this age group) and said, urgently, “Yes, what is it?”. The boy looked up, dreamily paused to admire the elegant curve of the wing of a bird high above the pitch, and the glint of sun in its eye, and then, pointing to his stomach said, in a slow and rather faraway voice “My shirt is a bit itchy here”. I walked away rapidly, biting my fist to stop myself laughing, and so regrettably did not catch coach’s comment, but I can confirm that it was concise and guttural. I was later told that the young man in question brings the same focus and commitment to his Tae-Kwon Do.

 

Last week I also had the great pleasure of welcoming back to school some of our first ever alumni, in whom we are so proud, who are now approaching the end of their initial University experiences. These wonderful young men and women have been speaking with confidence, experience and pride about what they are doing now – from National Service to NYU to Oxford and a dozen other places – and about how they want to establish a strong alumni network around the world, so that they can offer recent and detailed support to us. They have been generous, open and warm with their perspectives and advice, and we are grateful to them.

As a HS Principal, I find it very helpful to ponder the pre- and the post-HS life. As I watch our current HS students sitting exams, learning hard lessons about privacy in the digital age, getting ready to plan an independent trip around Asia, and dealing with the news that they have been accepted or rejected at University, the context helps.   Like all schools, we have students who have some tough moments to get through – and it helps to remember where they were, just a few years ago, and also where they will likely be very shortly.

The human condition is one where, in Terry Pratchett’s memorable phrase, the fallen angel meets the rising ape. Nowhere is this truer than in the High School years, and it’s good to have it mind whenever we face difficult times.

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About Nicholas Alchin

Nicholas Alchin (@nicholas_alchin) is Deputy Head and High School Principal at the United World College of SE Asia, East Campus. A sino-celtic Brit who drifted into working on building sites, drifted into the actuarial world, then chose education, he has lived and taught in values-based schools in UK, Switzerland, Kenya and Singapore. He has also held a number of roles with the IB and writes and speaks widely on educational matters. He enjoys travelling with wife Ellie, and kids Tom (11), Millie (14) and Ruth (17); also running, reading, writing, and baking bread.
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