Mr. Stephen Clark joined GESS in August 1987 and has taught generations of GESS students in his 34 years as a teacher here.
When he joined GESS, the school was still called Deutsche Schule Singapur and was a small school – there were no more than 26 teachers back then and there was often only one class per grade level. Mr. Clark recalls that at one point he only had 6 students in his Grade 8 class.
When asked what some of the things are that were different about the school back then, Mr. Clark brought up that there was no canteen in the school back in those days. The food had to be delivered during lunchtime and more often than not, kids brought their own food as well.
There were also no shortage of animals on campus – monkeys were a common sight and Mr. Clark also fondly remembers having a toucan perched atop one of the buildings, watching his classes.
“It was kind of like a little village in a way. Yeah, it was kind of nice.”
As can be expected of a school this small, colleagues were like family. And more than that, their families became part of the school too. Mr. Clark shares that teachers’ spouses were usually invited to any event in the school.
“I can remember once, Helmut Kohl, the German President [former German Chancellor] came over and had a big reception. I can’t think where it was. I think it might’ve been Raffles Hotel, but we were all invited, you know, and those sorts of things. I think the German community then was very tight and very inclusive.”
And there were even days when all staff could fit in the principal’s house and have a cosy evening with food and drinks – quite unthinkable these days given the number of staff working at GESS!
“We had big parties at the Headmaster’s house. He would sort of put food and drinks on for all of us. Beginning of the year and end of the year. So that sort of thing, I think it kind of felt as though you were a family.”
Mr. Clark also shared with fond remembrance the time our bus manager back then threw a massive party on campus for all staff to celebrate his grandson’s birth. That sort of event is the true mark of a close-knit community school where the school community became an extension of one’s family.
“I think that the one event that really stuck in my mind was – we had this quite eccentric bus manager called Mr. Robert. Anyone who’s been here a long while will know he is kind of like this larger than life character. And he had a grandson. And on one Sunday, so stretching from 11am to 3pm, I think, he put food and drink on for all the teachers and their spouses and the children as well. We all came along to celebrate the birth of his first grandson. And that to me, has summed up the German school in a way that everyone was a part of it.”
Spending 34 years in a school that has grown as rapidly as GESS is quite a journey. These years are filled with many rich experiences, celebrations, triumphs, learning points and details. For Mr. Clark, one of the triumphs that he still smiles about till date is when he led some football underdogs to the winners’ podium.
“I mean, my biggest achievement was that I won the Tanglin Cup for the under twelves (U12). Right now, we were a small school. We didn’t have much choice of players. And we go up against schools like UWC, Tanglin, OFS, you know these were big schools at that time and they had a lot of choice. And one year we actually won the tournament. And that to me was my great sporting achievement. That was kind of special.”
The adventures at the school were not just limited to the city-state. There were trips to neighbouring countries both with students and colleagues that were quite unlike anything today, with more of a carefree air and to date, Mr. Clark still marvels at the beauty of these trips of a different era.
“I think one of the best [school] trips I had was going up to Taman Negara. So, we took the overnight train from Singapore. We got off at 4 o’clock in the morning and were picked up by some mini buses that drove us to a river. And then we had a three-hour trip on very narrow wooden boats, you know, sort of sitting in single file. 3 hours right into the heart of the jungle. I think god, yeah, this is Asia. This is just great.”
“One year we went to Rawa on a sort of staff weekend, which was great as well, which I don’t think you’d ever get that anymore. We did that a couple of times. That was nice. So you’re meeting them [colleagues] in a different setting. So, we basically book the whole island then, because in those days there was only one chalet provider, sort of thing, you know. And they were just chalets, just wooden chalets. And we just went out there and I mean, you just have a barbecue, possibly drinks and alcohol, possibly. And you just go swimming, snorkeling and everything and sit around and chat. It was quite a nice bonding experience.”