In 2007, I began teaching mathematics and physics at this school in Bratislava. My son Paddy began attending in year 4 although he was ten years old. He had missed out on many years of education in Swaziland and could not read or write. He had probably only had a year of schooling. I was impressed that the school had been prepared to take him on. We lived a short walk away from the school in the northern suburb of Dubravka.
The school was staffed by a mixture of British and Slovak teachers. It was increasing in popularity and had a new principal. I taught mostly mathematics. The physics I taught was to the 11-14 age group. I taught HL mathematics for the IB Diploma too. The salary was excellent. The students were from many different countries. One of the biggest groups was the Koreans. The parents worked for Kia cars or one of the other Korean manufacturers that had relocated to Slovakia. I taught children from the UK, France, Germany, Slovakia, Russia, Serbia, Spain, China, the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, amongst others. I like to think that I made the lessons entertaining. I liked to try different learning styles and avoided formal lesson planning like the plague.
I loved teaching physics to the young ones. They were very interested in science practicals and we had a lot of fun. I designed a website for Key Stage 3 Physics. We built electric motors and we had great success designing model houses to see who could make the design that kept the heat in the most. I never enjoyed teaching as much as I did at this school.
In 2008, I bought a house over the border in Hungary. The idea was to save money on rent and buy an affordable home in the countryside. It was a 45 minute drive to work in the morning and really not at all bad. The house was in the sleepy village of Halászi. In 2008, the border controls came down and Hungary joined the Schengen area though it seemed that the Slovak police took about a year to realise this. I lost track of the number of times we were stopped crossing the border. For a while, we took an alternative but parallel route back home because of this hassle at the border crossing. Another reason for moving to Hungary was the overt racism that my son had received in Bratislava on numerous occasions. One on a crowded tram, a young man began making a monkey impression at my son. It was clearly directed at him. I did not react because when I get angry, I can lose control. I don’t like to do this. On another occasion in 2008, we were in a small supermarket called Billa in Dubravka and I could tell that my son was upset. I urged him to tell me what had happened and he did not want to tell me. In the end, he told me that a woman had pushed him out of the way. He pointed her out to me and I let her have it. Then there were the looks that people gave us. You may say that it’s just a look but I called it ‘the look of disgust.’ People stared. It was just rude. Paddy liked to ride his bike and I would not allow him to ride ahead of me in the park because I was concerned about his safety. He had been called ‘nigger’ by some youths in a park once, with me within earshot. Of course, unless we were walking close together, people assumed that we did not know each other. We were required to go to the ‘foreign police’ once a year to have our resident permit renewed. When I went the first time, the policeman at the desk looked at my son and asked if he had a passport. I felt like saying ‘No, I smuggled him into the country in a suitcase.’ I never experienced problems like this in my three years living in a village in Hungary.
The school knew of the difficulties I had but chose to ignore them and offered no support to me. When you are constantly faced with these difficulties, it has a detrimental effect on your psyche. When my son Paddy got into trouble. the school was not interested in taking into account the difficult background he had. They made no exceptions for him. They were just concerned about how the other parents might react.
I don’t want you to think that we had a bad time in Slovakia. The school was a very safe place and great for my son to grow up with. There were many lovely Slovak staff there who really went out of their way to help.