Each term we ask members of staff a few light-hearted questions about themselves so that friends of St Mary's School, Cambridge can get to know our team a bit better. Enjoy reading about our members of staff by clicking on each link below.
Head of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
What was your favourite subject at school? English
How did you get in to teaching? By accident. I had intended to be a journalist, and had done a summer cadetship, but came to Cambridge to do an affiliated degree after completing my first degree at the University of Western Australia. I felt so much at home here that I desperately wanted to stay. While negotiating with the Home Office, I took a summer job teaching English at a Cambridge language school and became interested in the perspective this gave me on my own language. When I was given permission to stay, I did a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics in Edinburgh to explore this interest further and equip myself to teach English as a foreign language. I then did so in Germany and Austria for the British Council, the Free University of Berlin and the University of Klagenfurt, where I met my future (English) husband. After the birth of our first son, we returned to the UK because we wanted to bring up our children here. Until I started teaching again, I worked as a lexicographer.
Why did you decide to work at St Mary’s School, Cambridge? I applied for a job at the International Study Centre and when this was eventually absorbed into St Mary’s School, Cambridge I was made responsible for teaching English to the school’s international students.
What’s your favourite thing about working at our school? I have many colleagues with whom I very much enjoy working, both in my own and in other departments, and I love the fact that so many of them are interested in language and languages. I think it’s wonderful that we have two bilingual Science teachers, for instance. But the highlight would have to be my international students. Their courage in coming to the UK, often from the other side of the world, and taking on the challenge of studying a wide range of subjects in a foreign language, and without the immediate support of their family and the friends they have grown up with, never ceases to amaze me! And they do so well, in so many different areas of the school too, for instance Art, Music, Science and Mathematics.
Favourite things! What's your all-time favourite…
Book: It is so difficult to choose! For many years, it was Middlemarch. George Eliot was my role model in my last years at school. When our sons were young, I read The Lord of the Rings to each of them and this was a wonderful experience for all of us, though it turned them into devotees of audio books rather than readers (not my intention!). Most recently, I’ve been impressed by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring out the Bodies. But the book that I’ve probably referred to most often since I discovered it when I was 18 is E.H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion. It has informed a great interest of mine and is a model of English academic prose style, though written by a non-native-speaker of English.
Poem: again, very difficult! Ozymandius, Pied Beauty, or Under Milk Wood?
Film: Lawrence of Arabia, my first biopic. I was blown away by it; I saw it so often that I can still quote some dialogue; I learned to play some of the music on the piano and devoured Lawrence’s autobiography, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Seeing an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum not long ago, which included his robes, renewed my interest: he did all that, and was only a little taller than I am!
Joke: the one I’ve heard most recently!
Q: Why does a hedgehog?
A: Because it has difficulty sharing.
What inspires you? My students, above all, inspirational colleagues, and a streak of competitiveness that makes me not want to be less competent in my field than the highly professional males in my family are in theirs.
What is your favourite hobby? Apart from anything remotely to do with my job? Walking, as often as possible in Austria, either in winter on the forest trails and prepared paths (so called ‘winter wander ways’ but I always think of them as ‘winter wonder ways’) when my family is skiing, or in summer, high up in the mountains with amazing views, stunning wildflowers, and the glorious gamelan-like sound of cow and goat bells. Why were these not mentioned in The Sound of Music? At Easter I walk the Cornish Coastal Path, which is far more arduous, as a form of penance.
What is your favourite music? I’m afraid I’m hopeless when it comes to popular music, but I enjoy classical music and love musicals, not least when performed at the school. I saw The Wizard of Oz andAnnie for the first time when performed by students here. My very favourite piece of music is Have mercy Lord on me (Erbarme dich) from Bach’s St Matthew Passion, an astonishingly beautiful combination of voice and violin.
What has been your favourite holiday so far? It would have to be one of those in Venice, either as a family, when our sons were discovering its delights for the first time, or with my husband, staying in a modest hotel on the Grand Canal where we breakfasted on a balcony overlooking it, unhurriedly absorbed the art and architecture, and heard The Four Seasons in one of the churches one evening.
What’s your worst habit? (My husband would definitely say) working all hours!
Team trivia: (without looking it up) how is Ilyena Lydia Mironoff better known? I’ve no idea! If my school quiz team had had to depend on me for its knowledge of celebrities, we would have been bottom of the league table! (Having admitted my ignorance, I did google her – and although I now know who this is, I know this is one fact I’ll never remember.) [The correct answer would have been Helen Mirren]