Interview with Teacher #1 at St. John’s Beaumont (SJB), an Independent Day-Boarding Preparatory School in Old Windsor, London

April 12, 2022

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in April 2022, undergraduate student Kartikeya Uniyal (SFS’23) interviewed a teacher at St. John’s Beaumont in London, England. In this interview, the teacher discusses how the institution—including faculty, staff, students, and parents—uphold the values of the Jesuit Pupil Profile (JPP).

When the JPP was first articulated, beginning 2013, how did you see it become a part of the institution, and where do you think it lies today?

I don’t think the JPP was anything new in terms of the message that it was trying to put out there. What it did was it took something that was inherently happening, and people were performing by action and it was spoken about, but I think what happened there was perhaps it wasn’t being reinforced, and there were elements where it wasn't being acted on as strongly as possibly beforehand. And maybe that was to appease and to appeal to a broader market as such, and so what the JPP did was take something that was probably culturally ingrained and started to wane, to now take it from being something that happened as a matter of course, to actually take it and almost bring it to the forefront as like a visual marketing experience to refocus people on it, to make it more overt, to make it more central to look this is what we’re about.

So, yeah, because there are so many distractions in the world, sometimes in order to maintain or to reinforce your own ethos or your own ideals, you have to become a little bit more virtuous. You have to put it out there a little bit more. You have to show, put reminders up, and expose people to that. And so I think that’s possibly maybe where whoever designed it felt that actually; we need to do something about that rather than hope that through experience and through action it would continue.

And just based on that, how do you personally interpret the place the JPP holds in the school? And how do you think the institution thinks of the place the JPP holds at the school?

The words that are on the profile, if you strip away religion, if you strip away anything but you look at humanity, having respect and valuing people, the love for people, then it doesn’t matter whether you are Christian or whether you are an atheist. If you want to live in a society where it is a positive society and constructive, and therefore people are all valued equally, then it’s quite common sense, those things. So, you know, be grateful, be humble, be generous, those kinds of things. Those are common morals, and I don’t think you go anywhere in the world, it doesn’t matter which culture you go to, you’ll probably find that that’s central to existing in some kind of cooperation. And if you take those out, society breaks down. Here, those are very much at the forefront.

So when we teach, when we engage with the boys, we’re trying to show and we’re trying to draw their attention to that. Because if you don’t expose them, if you don’t explain it to them, will they ever make the direct link with an action and what it actually means, what it’s doing? And so by doing that profile, it actually kind of adds a little bit of, “Oh okay, so that person did that, and that action, I think, is a good action, so I’d like to repeat that action and copy them. But why am I actually doing it? What does it actually mean?” And, “Oh, it’s because that’s how you act when you’re generous.” And young kids, and boys, need role models to understand that and to see how it is in action. They’re not going to find that just by themselves; they need some guidance on that.

So I think the JPP profile, by actually making it more overt, more visual, it helps them to make those connections because then they’ll see people doing that, and they’ll go, “Okay, I can see that on the JPP. I can see it being lived out and being fulfilled.” And then here, we just add the extra layer of, we do it through Christianity, and in particular Catholicism, and in particular, we focus on the way St. Ignatius spoke about teaching. And if you take those principles and you look at the JPP, if you teach in a loving, compassionate, humble way, you’re generous with your time, you generally get more out of people. You get them collaborating, you build them up.

So, those principles that you mentioned, they’ve always been inherent to the school?

Yes, yeah.

So, in terms of the response of the boys, has it become more clear after the JPP was articulated in this way?

I think what possibly was happening, that boys who could make the links would make the links, and it would be easier for the boys that are older because as you get older, making links is a skill, and as you mature and as you get older, you start to make more links with things. So young boys will not necessarily make those links. They will see someone maybe sharing a piece of cake, but they won’t necessarily see that as being generous and kind and loving. They will just see that as, “Well, I want fairness. I want my share of the cake.” And so when you actually explain it and point it out to them that actually by sharing and making sure everybody’s equal, you’re showing respect for everybody, you’re not putting anyone above anybody else, you’re showing generosity and things like that. By helping them to see these direct links, that becomes firstly a knowledge, “Okay, oh, I see that,” then the knowledge starts to become, “Okay, that actually felt quite good to share and be kind because look, everybody’s happy now.”

So then they start to see context, and then from context comes an embodiment of it. You start to actually practice that more and more, so it becomes more routine and inherent. If you don’t know about something, or something’s not pointed out to you, sometimes it will take you a very, very long time to make those connections, to change. So, a classic example is if you’re doing something that is actually disrespectful or unkind to somebody, but you don’t really know you’re doing that, are you going to find that out yourself somewhere down the line, or if someone helps guide you to that concept? And if you get guided to that and it’s made a little bit more overt to you, then you can start to reflect on it quicker and possibly adapt and change.

So, if I’m doing things that are disrespectful to you, or unkind to you, if it’s never pointed out to me, if I don’t know any difference, and I don’t really make the connections, I’ll just keep doing it. I will never know, until somehow I make those connections. And only then will I make a change, or choose not to make a change. And I think the Jesuit Pupil Profile, what it’s done is, it’s helping make those connections a little bit quicker and for younger boys to start realizing and to start practicing how it can become part of their nature.

Now can you just briefly talk about how you bring in the JPP and the way your work sort of shapes up?

Okay, so for me, yeah, I’ve been teaching a long time now. I’m reaching the end of my career. When you show compassion and empathy, it’s very easy to get frustrated with a kid and punish them, and it’s not that I'm saying don’t have some kind of consequences for actions, but if you take the JPP profile and you actually concentrate on the action rather than the person, and you can only do that if you actually have a genuine love for the pupils you’re teaching, and if you have some respect for them. So especially the older boys, don’t always talk down to them, let them talk to you, let them be right sometimes, let them have a negotiation now and again, and let them win some of that way where you show actually I’m willing to compromise, I’m willing to change my point of view and things like that.

And the JPP, by doing that, I’ve learned over the years to subtly change little things to get better outcomes for the boys, and in terms of general life, you know, there are probably things on there that when I first started here, I probably wasn’t that good at them because possibly I hadn’t seen very good examples myself, and so I may have been aware of them, but in acting out on them, was I really that good? And even as an adult, even today, there are pupils that show me how some of those things I could even do better, and so I think, yeah, the profile has helped me constantly reflect as I move forward and who I deal with in life.

And since these students are so young, they’re learning a lot at school, but they’re also learning a lot at home. What role do you think the parents play in this process of imparting a Jesuit education?

To categorize and define clearly, on the one hand, you would hope that the parents are making a conscious decision that they’ve looked at the mission statement of the school, that they understand that first and foremost this is a Jesuit Catholic school and what that stands for. And then secondly, that there is another principle, and those parents that embody that in their actions and the support of their kids, you see their kids flourishing very well here, taking a lot of the opportunities, and that there’s quite a lot of growth. Those parents that have chosen the school because it’s a religious-based school, therefore the discipline, the structure, the outcomes should be a little bit more clear and defined, and my son will benefit from that. But you know what, I don’t buy into the Christian thing and all that. I’m just using it because it’s convenient.

I think you see a discord with their kids, and you see conflicts coming up because the way their sons will operate in the school; sometimes we have a few problems where we’ve got to redirect them to, well no, we don’t do that, we don’t treat each other like that, and so it’s this constant message between what boys think when they come up the drive and what they’re being exposed to when they go back down the drive. And if you don’t have a community that reinforces and adheres to the morals and the message, if they’re buying into it for the wrong reason, then it is quite hard to actually get the boys to live that out all the time.

And what are some of those wrong reasons that they buy into it, and how does that affect the JPP?

I think this school, in particular, suffers from being in a very aspirational area, as it were. So, success in this area, I’m not so sure that the general community, I wouldn’t really call this a community, I’d call this an area, a settlement. And the settlement is linked to London as a bigger settlement. Now, London is very cosmopolitan, it’s very big, it’s very cutthroat. You’ve got to be a real go-getter, you’ve got to have a lot of energy. And I think that modern-day trappings, the material wealth, the modern world we live in, particularly in Americanism and a U.K.-Western thing, is we switch from the collective to the individual—"I, me, myself," "I’m most important," "I need this," "Now, this is my right." And I think when you look at all that, that’s focusing on the materialistic and the individual. Saint Ignatius and the Jesuit teaching is saying, yes, the individual is important, but the individual is important as a person who serves others. So, it’s the little things we can do to improve everybody else.

And I sometimes think that this is a high-achieving school. There’s lots of opportunities here. They [the students] go on to some of the most prestigious schools. And I sometimes think that that’s a little bit too materialistic, and sometimes the focus is on that rather than the real ethos, and so it benefits them to give lip service to the ethos because they’re wanting the other benefit of coming out of the school, and I wonder if we said tomorrow, all our pupils are going to be boarders at Stonyhurst. And if Stonyhurst was... or say if you moved... a better way of explaining... if I took Stonyhurst as a Jesuit secondary school and I put Stonyhurst five miles away from here, and we said right you don’t have to... this is Stonyhurst College, it doesn’t have the prestige of Eton, Harrow, Winchester, or whatever, but the boys that come here, it’s a Jesuit education, and that’s what we’re interested in, that you’re kind, you — how many boys would the school suddenly empty out because they’re not buying into the real Jesuit thing, or how many would stay? 

So, I always ask myself that question, where would they go? And so, if this temptation thing, this area, go back to this aspirational thing. A lot of the people here judge success by their future schools and wealth, rather than some of the values.

When you say a lot of the people, do you mean parents or even…?

I think it’s a mix. I’m caught in the same kind of no man’s land. I live in this area, and in order to live in this area, I have to earn an income that gives me the opportunity to live in this area, so it’s all good and well following God’s teaching, give everything you have to the poor. If I did that, I couldn’t live in this area. So, there is an element of, I’m even guilty of not fulfilling the Jesuit profile 100% because I have to earn a certain amount of money. So, if I was sticking to the true calling, the true ethos of it, then actually, I shouldn’t teach at this school because actually, I’m serving an elite, a rich. So then, I should go back to Africa and teach the kids that have got nothing under the tree; you don’t really have a classroom. So there is that dilemma.

What are some of the ways, then, that the institution balances between this dilemma, the two parts of it, right, the individual and the community?

So one of the things you’ve got to realize is that the world and the future of the world is made up of a huge dichotomy of religions, faiths, race, beliefs, opinions, and in a school like this, there is quite a multicultural influence. As such, if you can expose them to something like the profile and that way of teaching, these people, some of them possibly could go on to be fairly influential, and if they’ve had an exposure and an immersion in something like this, there is every chance that they will embody it and take it forward and actually act it out in future life. If you don’t do it, would they still do that? I don’t know, but I strongly believe that if you can’t make them buy into it, but they’re aware of it and they understand it, they may do that by choice because there are alternatives, and that, to me, is about education.

An educated person is able to evaluate the wrongs and the rights and compare them to morals and things like that, and so will they make better choices when they’re older? And that’s whether they’re 10 years old and they get to 13, or 16, or 46, or 56. If they’ve had exposure to a kinder, a more compassionate, empathetic system, then things like racism in the world, xenophobia, these kinds of things, you would hope that enough of them are coming out at the other end to actually start to stand against extremism, real kind of right-wing or left-wing politics, things like that. They start to put their fellow person at the forefront rather than always themselves.

And the school in particular, since it has the virtue of being bigger than a person themselves and having its own identity, how does it deal with this dilemma? Are there ever places where it has to compromise or it chooses to compromise?

The school has to stay viable in terms of an entity. So if funds to run the school were not an issue, then you could possibly be a little bit more, okay, we’re not, you know, we are going to make sure everybody adheres fully to that. But that’s not the case. There is a certain amount of funding that’s needed, so you need some of these people that have got the money. And people with money are very aspirational for their kids, and so again, they will come in here.

But we will have equally boys here that do not come from that background, and if we can level the playing field within the gates and show that it doesn’t matter whether you come from one side or the other, that there is a common ground that you can fulfill, that hopefully they will see that having wealth doesn’t necessarily mean that they should always have the best opportunities in life, but that they actually got a responsibility and accountability to make the best of those opportunities just as much as it is to share it with the ones that possibly can’t buy into that, and that’s quite a difficult dilemma.

So the school does that, and it does promote that, but on the other hand, it also caters for a bit of the market out there in terms of getting them into prospective schools and other private secondary schools.

Since a lot of what the JPP seeks to do depends on the staff and the teachers, what are the efforts made to foster staff well-being? And what would you say is the state of that aspect of the JPP that depends entirely on the staff and teachers?

Yeah, it’s a difficult one to answer because in some respects, my own opinion and my own experience here has been, do I feel valued as an individual for me, myself, and that’s kind of the wrong thing to think about because this is not about me, this is about the entity, about the school, and the ethos. But for my own well-being, sometimes I think that what goes on, I’m not so sure that my well-being is of the utmost importance. I sometimes think that we could do that better.

In order for this to work, this is a building, it becomes a school and a community with the parents, the pupils, and the staff—that’s a whole other debate, what does community mean? But here, if the staff that you employ can’t embody the values of the JPP and they’re not allowed to demonstrate that, or find it difficult to demonstrate that, or don’t have that in themselves, then again it breaks down because then it just becomes rhetoric. It doesn’t become action. And in my experience, the most powerful thing is action, not rhetoric. Sometimes, not saying anything but just doing something, people will remember far more than actually big speeches and all that. So yeah, staffing is crucial to that, and sometimes some years we’ve been blessed where we’ve had lots of staff that act that very well, and other years less so.

It’s quite a broad question to answer, really. I’ve stayed here for a number of years because one, partly, I needed a job, I needed to earn money, and I liked it in this area, and I had a young family that I had to make sure I provided for, but there was also the strong pull of what the school stood for. And what we were trying to do is a moral compass and a mission, and I buy very much into that. And so that always appealed to me rather than something else. So, that’s why I’ve stayed here as long as I have.

And do you always feel supported when you work on that message of…?

No, I don’t think so. But again, I don’t dwell on what I need all the time. I have basic needs. I need to earn money. I need to be able to survive in the area. And so, I’ve never chased... If I was going to chase wealth and fame and fortune, I would have left here a long time ago because quite frankly, you don’t get rich as a teacher, and if I’m going to put myself as trying to be famous or important in the school, well then, that’s not what I think the real teaching calling is, to be honest.

So, where the school has supported me, I think it’s allowed me to be involved in the school in a number of ways outside the classroom. So, where there’s been big growth and big potential, it’s been able to offer pupils not just an experience in the classroom, but outside as well. And actually show them a bit more of the world, bring them into contact with different situations, both good and bad. So, you know, for instance, I’ve been involved in taking a ski trip for a long time. What’s the benefit of that? Because it’s quite elitist, it’s expensive, but the benefit of that is you get the boys away from home; they’re in a residential situation. So then, you get a chance to show them that actually being kind and grateful and all that doesn’t happen just for five hours a day. And that they’re actually, when you take them out of the classroom, if I’m skiing, I’m not a great skier, but they may be better at skiing, so they can help me, rather than the other way around. So you start to show that everybody can help and be kind to each other in different ways.

We’ve also taken boys all over the world. I’ve taken groups back to South Africa, very much to a charity for the poor there. So part of their luggage was, you have to put in your luggage some shoes and clothes that you’re going to give to the St. Vincent de Paul’s charity. “Oh, but I'm never getting…” No, you’re 20 kgs, you can have 15 kgs in your suitcase. 5 kgs are for the poor. And the arguments that come out of that, and we say, “No, that’s not negotiable. If you’re not going to do that, I can’t take you.” Yeah, and it’s kind of showing that you’re privileged to get this, but show some gratitude because others... So it’s little things like that, and that has been very rewarding. And so, I suppose, in terms of fulfillment and enjoyment for myself, that is where the school has allowed me to.

And how do you see the boys responding to these attempts of embodying the JPP?

If you ask any boy that has been to the school and has been given the chance to take part in those kinds of things, when you talk to past pupils and you ask them about their experiences at school, very seldom do they talk about the maths lesson or the geography lesson. Most of them will tell you about an individual, a teacher: “Oh, that teacher did this or that,” and it’s either good or bad. So those that have had a bad influence or quirky teachers or whatever, they’ll talk about those, but those that are really good. “Mr. So and so on,” they talk about those. But what they’ll often come back to is experiences that they had. Some may be in the classroom, they may have had an incident in the classroom that was very funny and they all remember, or times where they collectively came together as a community, a rugby game where they collaborated together, or a trip where they did things together. And those are the stories that come out. And that’s where they get to live out a bit more overtly the actual ethos of the school.

And lastly, just on a comprehensive level, what do you think needs to be done to improve the implementation of the JPP?

Yeah, it’s quite a difficult question because we are fighting temptation more and more, and we’re fighting this ideology of “me, myself, I,” which is reinforced so heavily out in the marketplace with products, adverts, the rise of the celebrity, you know, all these reality TV programs. A lot of that is counter to what the JPP is standing for. But the fame and fortune and the material wealth that comes out of there is very, very hard to counter.

And so the challenge is bringing in a system where you have quite a strong collective group actually saying, “You know what, it’s out there, but we don’t adhere to that, we don’t idolize that, or we don’t all want that.” And also being able to say — and how that’s going to happen, I don’t know — but to say to parents who don’t really embody what we’re looking for, we don’t really want to buy into that, we just want to pay lip service to it, that actually, we can survive without you. And I don’t know if the school could. And that will be the challenge. How does a school stay a school, stay viable in this economic climate, without some of the money that’s got to come in? And if you’re going to accept that money to survive, you may have to accept that the real true calling of Jesuit education is always going to be tested.

In that test right where this, the money game, comes in, how does the school currently respond?

They’re trying to do, they’re trying to say, “Okay, if you’ve gone through Catholicism, hopefully, you’ve got an embodiment of the JPP principles.” So it’s advantageous to get Catholic families, and an example is when you look at our Mexican boys that come here, or Spanish boys, those countries are quite strong in Catholicism and actually still quite old school in the way they go about it. It’s still a strong buy-in to that. And those boys that come here actually pick up and act out the profile a lot quicker than even some of our locals. And so you can see how that works. And they have a big benefit in actually bringing some of the other boys here up to those kinds of buy-ins.

Are there enough of those out there to sustain a school like this? Probably not, but it’s how do you not discriminate against others because you don’t have to be a Catholic to embody those principles, that’s what I first said to you. And it’s how do you find boys—atheist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, whatever — how do you find those boys that embody the JPP? Because if they embody the JPP, then surely that’s the first goal: better humans, better people for the future. Religion is probably a bit more personal, whether you believe in God or not, or for the Muslims, Allah, or whatever. So that is always going to be a conflict, and I don’t think the world has ever solved that yet. But if you can take the principles of any religion and you look, it is the JPP. And so if we can start off with that, and that gets carried forward, then the school has done its job. But it’s got to be able to stay viable. Unless someone’s bankrolling it, they can push it harder. But if they’re not bankrolling it, then trying to keep the balance is always going to be a tough act.

Great. Thank you so much for taking the time.


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