Upper School Choice - chess

Saying Goodbye to Our 2024 Retirees

25th June 24

Lower School buildings on a sunny day

Our community is a special one and so we are always sad when people move on to their next adventure. This year, we will be saying goodbye to three, much loved, long standing teachers who really are part of the DNA of the School. Ilona, Claire Michael and Jane have around 90 years of service between them and we cannot thank them enough for the love and care that they have given to countless children and colleagues over such a long time. We will miss you all more than you know.

Written by Head of Lower School, Karen Thomas

Claire Michael

My first encounter with The King Alfred School was at a Saturday Open Day in the summer of 1999. I was looking at different schools for our daughter and having contacted admissions, was invited along to see the school. These days were quite an event. All the teachers would create impressive displays of the children’s work and would open their classrooms to current families, and to welcome and be available to visitors such as myself. I must admit, I did not know quite what to make of the school, it was so different to any other I had seen, both in its structure and layout, and in its atmosphere. What struck me was its relaxed and exciting sense of freedom and creativity. The beautiful green environment with its mix of trees and a goat wandering the field just looked idyllic. The happy, confident children running and playing clearly felt a keen sense of belonging. We applied and were subsequently delighted to be offered a place for our daughter to join Year 3 in 2001. Little did I know then that later down the line, I would be one of those teachers proudly opening her classroom up and answering the many questions of visitors on open day. 

I have always loved the primary school environment and worked in different educational settings as a Nursery Nurse, including a Nursery and Infant Assessment Unit and residential schools for children with Autism Spectrum Condition, before taking a break to have my own children. 

My working life at KAS began when my lovely friend and colleague Carla asked if I would like to apply for a job share position as a Teaching Assistant. I jumped at the chance. I worked as a Teaching Assistant alongside many inspiring Teachers and Teaching Assistants. I learnt so much from them and consider this time to have been an extended, invaluable teaching apprenticeship. The teamwork in lower school is second to none and is a major factor in ensuring that the children get the absolute best educational experience. 

I am deeply grateful for the support and encouragement I received from previous Head Teachers, Dawn Moore and David Weale, who encouraged and supported my decision to apply for a school-based teacher training programme at the Institute of Education. They enabled me to achieve a life-long ambition. It has been one of the greatest joys and privileges of my life to have been a teacher to children in the earliest years at KAS. I loved every minute of it, even the challenges of long days and the inevitable exhaustion that comes with the role. Every single morning that I walked through the Ivy Wood gates and saw the pond with its moorhens, ducks, and dragonflies, I could not believe just how lucky I was to be teaching here. No two days and no two years have been the same. Each year’s group of children has a distinct dynamic that requires you to rethink and adapt your teaching. Teachers are in a constant process of learning alongside the children. Teaching is never boring! 

One of the most rewarding things about working at KAS has been seeing those small children turn into confident, purposeful, ambitious, and socially responsible young adults as they progress through school and beyond.  

As an Early Years Teacher, I especially loved welcoming new families into the school and building relationships with such a special community of parents and children. I have saved every single thank you card, and yearbook so generously given over the years, and I know that I will continue to treasure them and the memories of each unique child that they provoke.  

Other treasured memories include Bonfire Night events and of course, the Christmas parties and singing with children and parents around the tree, accompanied by Camilla Ovenden on the menorah topped piano. 

Thank you to the whole KAS community for nurturing and growing me in my career, for celebrating with me in the best of times, and upholding me in the worst.  Thank you, parents, for allowing me the privilege of teaching your precious children. I am choosing to move on with a mix of excitement and apprehension, but I know I will forever be a part of this incredible community, just in a different way. 

Ilona Ullmann

I fell in love with King Alfred’s the moment I saw it and can’t quite believe that the time has come for me to say goodbye. I first came across the school in October 1993 when I was invited to one of its famous firework parties. Children ran around freely, laughing and greeting teachers enthusiastically. People walked on stilts and ate fire, and the classrooms were colourful and inviting, welcoming everyone in. There was a huge bonfire in the middle of the field, and we all gathered around it to keep warm. Sparks flew into our hair, landed on our clothes: they went everywhere. Health and safety was less of a thing in those days, so we happily slapped each other to avoid burns or worse and went home with singed eyelashes and happy hearts. I instantly felt at home! 

At the time, I was working in a school which had a tiny concrete playground, lots of adult-imposed rules and a lunch hall where the children had to eat in silence. The contrast couldn’t have been greater. I remember chattering away to colleagues, family and friends about this incredible school I had visited and telling them I would give anything to work there. So, I couldn’t believe my luck when a few months later a job as a Reception Class teacher became available. As well as filling out an application form, I wrote a three-page covering letter outlining my philosophy of education and progressive, child centred attitude to learning. I gave it my all! I had a whole day of interviews, was nibbled by a goat (Dolly or Daisy, I’m not sure which) and went home happy but exhausted. I didn’t hear from them until a few days later and was beginning to lose hope when Francis Moran phoned me up and offered me a job as a Year 3 teacher. I was overjoyed, both to have been offered a job, but better still, in my preferred age group. It was one of the happiest days of my professional life. 

I have seen King Alfred’s go through many different iterations over the years, from progressive to less progressive to more progressive and so on. When I started there were eighteen children per class, no timetable, cockerels crowing, goats nibbling, a large replica Viking boat being set alight on the field, microwaves being blown up as part of a science lesson and children running in and out of the staffroom. But at its heart, it has always been about the children: their wellbeing, their creativity, their education, and their individuality. 

It has been such a privilege teaching in a school which goes from Reception to Year 13 as you get the chance to see the children you taught grow up. I have always been moved by past pupils popping down to say hello, reminiscing about being in my class, telling me what they’re up to and their plans for the future. 

I feel incredibly lucky to have chosen a profession which gives me so much joy. I have always been passionate about teaching, and 36 years on this hasn’t diminished at all. Teaching is about so much more than imparting knowledge. It is about nurturing the entire child and helping them flourish and grow in every way. King Alfred’s understands this and it’s the main reason I was so keen to become one of the team. 

Two years after I started at King Alfred’s, my daughter Emilia joined Reception and like me, she was happy from day one. She immediately felt at home and stayed until the end of Year 13. The school served her very well and she has developed into a well-rounded, successful adult. I am very grateful for all the care and love she received during her time as a pupil at the school, and that she benefitted from a style of education I believe in completely.  

I have had many special experiences over the last thirty years. One was an incredibly eye-opening trip to China during which we immersed ourselves in the culture and practices of our hosts. Spending a week in a Chinese boarding school really brought home to me how wonderful our school ethos is, but also the universality of the human spirit. Although the school we stayed in was the opposite of KAS in every way, barriers melted away as the pupils chatted, laughed and played sport together and we as adults were also welcomed with open arms. I had to step far out of my comfort zone and on more than one occasion found myself teaching hour-long lessons to classes of sixty Chinese teenagers who all sat in silent rows and stood up and clapped when I walked into the room. I also went to the night market in Beijing and ate fried insects on skewers which is something I probably won’t repeat. 

I also have fond memories of sailing trips to Falmouth. I was no sailor, but Emilia played a small role in constructing the school boats and enjoyed learning how to sail with John Peasley.  We went during the holidays, and it was great fun socialising with and getting to know like-minded King Alfred families. There was one memorable occasion when the boat I was in headed off course and eventually capsized. We were in no danger at all – in fact the teenagers on board loved righting the boat, clambering back on and assisting me to do the same. I, on the other hand, was a little less enthusiastic about the experience, so I decided to hang up my sou’wester, and haven’t been sailing since. 

I want to thank all the wonderful children, parents, and colleagues I have worked and laughed with over the last thirty years. I am very grateful for the experience and take away countless precious memories. Once an Alfredian, always an Alfredian. This definitely isn’t goodbye! 

Jane Stevens

Saying goodbye to KAS isn’t easy – I’ve spent 36 of my 50 working years here.  My son and daughter (parents themselves) can’t remember a time without the school playing a part in our lives. 

I’ve had such a great time in a cast-list of different roles, but this isn’t my obituary!  I have exciting plans: travelling, skiing (bye-bye lift queues in school holidays) and adventures with my family and friends.  In September, a granddaughter will join my 4 young grandsons, so I’ll be busy. 

And I have heaps of treasured KAS memories to reflect back on – all the interpersonal stuff, plays, camps, ski and Le Touquet trips, the Future Thinkers project… and so many KAS friends to keep in touch with. 

In my time, KAS has grown and developed, expanding into Ivy Wood twenty years ago and doubling the numbers on roll, but the KAS magic remains.  I’ve worked for six Heads of School (Nikki, Francis, Lizzie, Sue, Dawn and Robert) and four Lower School Heads (Guy, Mike, David and Karen) and wonderfully creative and committed colleagues – fellow teachers and TAs, Nikki and Pam, IT Tech wizards, Estates’ team heroes, all the super-helpful admin staff, HR and Reception, Tracy and Ashleigh, and the dedicated catering team. 

Above all, what I treasure most are the hundreds and hundreds of children I’ve worked alongside, including a significant number of children of former students I once taught.  I recall so many faces with great affection.  To see the tots who joined KAS at four years old pass out as confident and aware young adults each year at the end of their KAS experiences makes me very proud.  

I wish everyone in our very special community as full and rich a life as I am enjoying … my time at KAS has been lively and fulfilling, great fun and a life-enhancing privilege.

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