Jill & George -Teaching Together in the '90s

[Since we were once again in touch with George after Jill's life saving operation in 2014, to remove an acoustic neuroma from inside her head... he happily sat by her hospital bed on occasions, recalling some rather mad escapades and keeping her wildly amused. She amused us with the bandage around her head which gradually slipped upwards and sideways making her look like Papa Smurf! Anyhow, I asked George to write down a few thoughts and ended up getting a typical school report card!! It seems that everything George thought about Jill was just a reflection of what Jill thought about George - they were both brilliant teachers and left their pupils brighter, wiser and happier. I am going to go now and look for a classic clip of George acting the foil - Peter Quince - for a bunch of mechanical fools in A Midsummer Night's Dream performed at the British Embassy in 1997. And that is another story entirely.]


I started working beside Jill at Sandford International School in August 1996. Jill was teaching Year 3 and I was teaching Year 5. The school was a dynamic and vibrant place, fantastic students who were a mix of international and local, dedicated teachers who were also real characters and a facility full of lots of slightly old and decrepit buildings with lots of interesting stories to tell. Jill and I worked in the Junior School so it was a separate dedicated courtyard that encompassed Years 3 to 6 and we were very proud of our cocoon of excellence at the school and we celebrated that often. The Junior School was initially run by Mr. Jack Baker, another interesting chap.

Jill and I gravitated towards each other through? Not too sure what exactly. Was it me, the lapsed catholic seeing somebody so humble and generous of spirit, celebrate her Catholicism in the most natural way? Was it a strong connection to her wicked sense of humour, also enjoying a good giggle? Or, and I think this was it, I identified a master teacher and she saw in me the potential to be one too and was consistently supportive throughout the years that I knew and worked beside her.

Addis Ababa and Ethiopia was, and still, is an interesting place. We felt, although it was not written down anywhere, a need to offer service to the community outside the school gates. Every single faculty member did so in different ways. It was part of the hidden curriculum if you will, although some embraced this service more than others. Jill and Gary initiated many actions and activities to support the external community around the school and in the city with Jill modeling great service by delivering food parcels to the homeless of the city. I ran a club for street children with Ms. Choolie, Big Joe, Geoff, Asaafa and Tsimona and we would entertain Jill and our colleagues in the Junior School courtyard every Thursday afternoon with games of ‘What’s the time Mister Wolf?’, ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ and ‘Body parts Bingo’ (Don’t ask!). Many of the boys and girls from the club grew older and connected to Gary and Jill in various activities designed to teach them different skills.

We were definitely a team in the Junior School. Jack left and Diane O’Connell took over and re-structured the Primary School and there were positions of responsibility going. Jill was promoted to Head of Years 3 & 4, and I was promoted to Head of Years 5 & 6. We took our jobs seriously and led our teams to the best of our abilities, focusing on collaboration and team work. We also worked together as Years 3 to 6, with one of the highlights being a celebration of Meskal, covering the whole Junior Courtyard with giant Meskel daisies and having a bonfire in the courtyard. This was a great celebration although the bonfire was quite large and lively, necessitating a re-think the following year, with artificial symbolic flames being substituted (still implemented to this day).

Jill taught me much in the time that I worked beside her. She was passionate, understanding and highly knowledgeable of effective teaching and learning. She understood the power of being gentle, loving, caring and supportive of the children in her care. The teaching and learning that occurred in her classroom was relevant and motivating. She made every child she supported feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging. She also established a strong rapport with the parents of her students and they also respected the love, care and nurturing she offered their children.

One of Jill’s key strengths was she was highly collegial and understood the impact of supporting each other socially and emotionally. This trait is essential in every learning community but especially so in the sometimes unique life in Addis Ababa.

Jill was always resourceful and well-organized. She was a great communicator, making excellent use of teaching time and always inspired students to do their best. She was always creative, hard-working and resourceful. She possessed a high level of self-respect and this affected everyone around her. She set a high personal standard that our children, and our colleagues, tried to emulate. Although she was knowledgeable about primary education she continued to search for new ideas and new ways to improve her teaching.

Jill was always prepared to go that extra mile, whether it was supporting the other Grades in Year 3 and 4, or the whole school whether it was a celebration or performance.

Finally, I will return to collegiality and camaraderie. In our profession, working internationally and often in developing countries, there is often very little in the form of ‘traditional’ social or leisure activities to bond or to develop friendships or relationships with people so Jill’s no-nonsense ability to ‘get on’ with people, make them feel valued and worthwhile and to be a good listener is something to be commended and celebrated. Long may it continue.

All the best,

George Piacentini