ISL lower school principal Patricia Angoy is pictured in the Reflection Garden, a place of peace and contemplation created as a legacy to her 10 years at ISL
As International School of Luxembourg lower school principal Patricia Angoy prepares to move on to a new job, she looks back at the experiences that shaped her career.
Patricia Angoy is very much looking to the future when we speak at the beginning of July. The ISL, where she works, has broken up for the holidays, the uncertainty of the past months of lockdown are behind her and she will shortly start a dream job as principal at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College (UWCSA), the first multiracial school in Southern Africa.
It will be the seventh country in which she has worked in a 45-year career, of which 41 were in education.
“When you look back 45 years, I was trying to think what am I holding onto and what have I let go of?” she says. “If I think back to myself as a young teacher in my early twenties in the East e\End of London, the same holds true for me now--it’s me being true to my own values as a human being and wanting to impact a child’s life positively given the fact they’re not necessarily in school of their own free will.”
Angoy has fond memories of her childhood in Georgetown, Guyana, where she attended primary school, a time “full of adventure and discovery” when she “played as a schoolteacher”. But that changed at secondary in the UK.
“I went to secondary school in Britain and I didn’t enjoy that. I was there at a time of great social unrest in Britain. Even my first teaching jobs were very racially tense. I thought it was going to be absolutely different, it wasn’t.”
These experiences propelled Angoy to create the school life for others that she should have had, one in which young people can discover themselves, learn and have the world open up to them. “I wanted to do something different in school with young people [...] I believe strongly in the possibility of change. I think that young people are there to change the world.”
After her first job as a teacher at a junior school in Hackney, London, Angoy spent five years as a volunteer rural education teacher trainer in Ecuador. Her next step was Chile, where she lived and work in two different schools for 11 years, of which three were under the Pinochet military dictatorship. After stints working in education in Togo and Cuba, Angoy began her Luxembourg chapter in August 2010, at the lower school of the ISL where she was instrumental in embedding a culture of lthinking into the curriculum.
“You are not enough”
Throughout it all, she said she has learned a valuable lesson that applies to any profession: “You are not enough. You are the sum of all the people who have gone before you. You are also the person who in your classroom or office or operating theatre because other people have supported you or have been your champions or have been the people who had your back.”
The people who “provoked” her to look at the world differently were not always adults. Angoy recalls during her first year at ISL a four-year-old boy approached her in the playground and said she looked like she needed a hug. “I looked down at him. I didn’t know who he was. I said you know what, that’s exactly what I need now. And he hugged me. I thought here is someone so perceptive, so observant he’s watching me as someone upbeat and fun. At that moment, he realised I wasn’t and so he gave me exactly what I needed.”
Patricia Angoy is pictured holding the school's cultural cookery book. Photo: ISL
Unexpected but much-needed hugs and regular support from allies have helped Angoy to make difficult decisions and continue to challenge mindsets in her search for fulfilment. And she doesn't shoulder that burden alone. She says: “There's so much work to be done in the world to end oppression and injustice. We have to keep going, in whatever job you have. It doesn't matter what you do. It starts with one person. Each of us counts.”
Before the end of term, colleagues and pupils gave Angoy the first edition of the new “ISL Cultural Cookbook”, an initiative that sprang out of the principal's UN World Food Day shared lunch.
The book features recipes from around the world to help people understand why cultures eat the foods they do and how all recipes share similar components but are very different. “It’s about what that meal means to your culture, language and religion or family […] Through their food they can remember those stories and remember who they are,” she says.
Angoy lost her calm and composure, in a good way, when the school unveiled another parting gift, a Reflection Garden, where staff and pupils can go to remember someone they have lost.
Within the garden are hundreds of stones on which children have painted with colours and messages. “I was very emotional and still am. It’s everything I could have wanted as a legacy. When you’ve worked somewhere for a long time, of course you have gifts but it’s much better to leave something than to take something away […] it’s a gift to everyone,” she says.