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Bangkok Faces: Valerie Thomas-Peter, Head of School, Bangkok Prep

Your Name: Valerie Thomas-Peter

Job Title: Head of School at Bangkok International Preparatory and Secondary School (Bangkok Prep)

What is your nationality and background?

I am British and am from York, which is a beautiful historic town in the North East of England. My parents were also from York and believed passionately in the value of education, particularly for girls and I was one of the first members of my family to go to university and get a degree. I am married with two wonderful sons and a grand-daughter. My elder son is a Graphic Designer and my younger son is a Languages Teacher (French and Spanish). They both live with their families in the York area.

What is your profession?

I am a teacher first and foremost and have worked in schools for 38 years; I have been both a secondary and a primary teacher, a Primary Head, a Secondary Head and have worked internationally in various countries as a Head of School for the past 17 years. I moved to Bangkok, Thailand, 3 years ago following my appointment to the post of Head of School at Bangkok Prep.

What are the key skills and responsibilities of this role?

My role requires a great deal of flexibility. I have to utilise my knowledge and understanding of the highest quality teaching and learning every day and take decisions that I anticipate will be in the best interests of the students and their education. I am responsible for the hiring of the very best quality teachers for the school and also for ensuring that they focus on the individual needs of our students and enable them to be the best that they can be! Over the years I have become interested in the link between raising standards and school development and have been through inspection training for OfSTED (a regime of inspections in the UK also used in BSO inspections in overseas British Schools). This has been very interesting and has enabled me to hone the skills of observation when visiting classes and monitoring teacher performance. Couple this with the need to understand facility development and 21st century school design, responsibility for areas such as budgeting and also for school improvement planning and you can see that my role is diverse and challenging. It also, however, provides me with a marvellous opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people and to enable them to reach their full potential as adults. Working with my team in school gives me an enormous sense of responsibility, pride and satisfaction.

How did you get involved in your profession?

I enjoyed school myself but didn’t initially think of teaching as a career. As a student at university, however, I helped out in a school on a voluntary basis and found that this was something that I not only enjoyed but was also a means by which I could contribute to the community. I worked with a child who had been in a traumatic situation and who hadn’t spoken to an adult for 2 years. When working together he trusted me enough to speak with me and this event inspired me to become a teacher. I consider that I have been really fortunate to have found my vocation at a relatively young age and 38 years further on – I still consider teaching to be the best job in the world and the satisfaction gained from working in an environment where one can make a difference in the lives of young people is absolutely immense.

How does your role enhance the wellbeing or experience of children?

My philosophy of education is very simple. Students and their learning should be at the heart of everything we do in school and as Head of School I am in the privileged position of being able to bring my influence to bear to make this dream a reality on a daily basis. The well-being of our students is the key to ensuring that they have the best possible experience in school and the best possible chance to become a well-rounded, well-educated global citizen as adults.

What challenges do your face in this role?

As educationalists, teachers often have very strong feelings about how things should be done. In different countries and different cultures approaches can, however, be very different. A wise friend once said to me, “We are here to add to the culture, not change it.” This advice has stayed with me over the years and I have found it to be very true. Running schools in South East Asia has been a very rich and rewarding cultural experience.

Challenges can, however, occur on a daily basis. As well as being a Head of School I am also the mother of two sons. In situations of difficulty or when tough decisions have to be made I ask myself how I would feel, or how my sons would feel in that particular situation. It keeps me grounded and provides a moral compass which enables me to make what I hope are the right decisions in challenging situations.

What do you hope to achieve within your industry?

We are very fortunate in education as we see the fruits of our labour on a daily basis in the successes of our students on many levels. The best we can hope for as teachers is to have made a difference to the lives of the young people in our care.

Who or what inspires you?

When I was 7 years old I had a teacher called Miss Onyett. What I remember about her was that she had a passion for teaching. She really wanted us to enjoy our studies and excel in them. I can remember sitting in her class and working really hard because I wanted to please her.

All of the children in my class loved Miss Onyett because she taught from the heart and it was clear that she cared for us and wanted the best for us. It was no surprise that she went on to be a very successful teacher in my home town of York and that generations of children were inspired by her. Miss Onyett was my role model as a teacher and I suspect that many teachers around the world will have been inspired themselves by a teacher who taught them when they were a child.

Only a Bangkok local would know…

Only a local would know that the best cup of coffee can be found at Ceresia on Soi 33/1 Sukhumvit.   Be careful though – mass produced coffee will never taste the same again!

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