Ever wondered what biscuit Mrs Chong would be, given the choice? Well now you can find out! As part of BBC School Report we will be exclusively interviewing Mrs Chong about her time at Ribston and some slightly more obscure things. Mrs Chong has been teaching at Ribston for 35 years and has been head for almost 20. She will be greatly missed when she retires but we hope she has enjoyed every second of her time with us. Read on to unlock many secrets about the head teacher we know and love.
To kick off this interview, we started with this;
Q: What is your favourite memory from your time at Ribston and what are you most proud of?
A: I should have planned this shouldn’t I? I mean 35 years is a long time and 20 years as head. I think the wackiest memory is when we did a charity day, one of the teachers had a son who had cystic fibrosis- this meant they had to be banged as part of the treatment. So, we did a bounce day. Whilst everyone else was on space hoppers, I was persuaded to do trampolining and there is a picture of me in my gown (at that time we had to wear gowns and hoods) bouncing.
My proudest moment was actually being appointed head teacher- I’d been here for about 14 years when I was asked to be acting head teacher and I thought- wow- I never thought this was what I would be and then when I got the permanent post- yeah, that’s got to be the proudest moment, that opportunity to lead such a fab school.
Q: What inspired you to become a teacher?
A: Right okay, I grew up in schools and my father was a head teacher of a boarding school but it was a boy’s school so I couldn’t go to that school. My main passion as a youngster and still is- sport. So I really wanted to find a job that enabled me to play sport to a reasonable level. Coupled with being a day girl at a boarding school meant I wasn’t able to play for any of the sports team. So I vowed, actually, that would never happen with me. As a teacher I wanted to make sure the youngsters could do whatever they wanted to do and not be discriminated against or be limited in their opportunities. That was kind of where my teaching came from. I planned to be a primary school teacher, I thought I could cope with little people. Circumstances changed, and with PE being my main subject, I ended up teaching secondary.
Q: Would you recommend being head teacher to others?
A: Yes, definitely. It’s an amazing job- very privileged. It is hard work but it’s never dull. There’s an amazing variety within it. I think if I was advising anybody to be a head teacher, I would suggest that they try and get a good work life balance. I’m sure people perceive that I work really hard and I’m here first in the morning and quite often I am here last at night. And that’s because of me, I want to support what you guys do. I don’t do as much as I used to but if there is a match it is important to be whole hearted in what you do and it is a way of life. You’ve got to have a little balance to it but I’ve been really lucky that Ribston has been my way of life. It’s a great job. There are a couple of days when you think ‘oh no, I have to tell that child off or I’ve got to pick up that problem’ but you know there are probably more questions so carry on-
Q: What advice would you give to the new head teacher?
A:“Be yourself.” Get to know everyone, really listen and see what it is. It’s a fantastic school, it’s on the up. She can take it wherever she wants but take people with her.
Q: If you could invite three people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be?
A: That’s an interesting one. Three people? Okay. My mum. She died a long time ago now, it would be quite nice to see her again. She would be pleasantly surprised because she never knew I was a head teacher. So I think she would be very, very surprised that her wayward daughter, her wayward teenager, suddenly became responsible for lots of people. I think I would probably, this is probably a very strange one for you guys, probably won’t have heard of her, a lady called Laura Davis who is a golfer. One of my passions is golf and she was one of the first female golfers that I’d ever heard of but that I could see as a role model. So it would be fascinating to have her to dinner. Another person I would invite to dinner would be Victoria Wood, the comedian, because you need a laugh. There’s a whole range there, a bit of sport, a bit of family and a bit of comedy.
Q: When you were a PE teacher what was your favourite sport to teach?
To teach? Now that was a really odd one for me but it would be swimming. I was a swimmer as a youngster. Where I grew up was in a county called Westmolland – which no longer exists- so I swam for my county and played tennis for my county. But tennis is really difficult to teach. Swimming is the thing I made most impact with.
Q: If you could rewind to when you first joined our school, what would you do differently?
A: Probably acknowledge the traditions of the school because I think when I came, I had come from a very modern school. It was a big comprehensive, I spent the whole time walking around with keys and locking doors and I couldn’t get the idea that this was such an open society. I wasn’t aware of how many traditions there were-I’ve learnt subsequently. At the time I didn’t appreciate, the history of the school and I think had I known a bit more about that when I first came, it wouldn’t have stopped me coming, but I would have been more aware about how important the traditions are to the students.
Q: What GCSE’s and A- level subjects did you choose?
A: Crikey! That was a bit of a long time ago. A level I did geography, history and art. For GCSE’s, we didn’t have much of a choice in those days. I did food as an extra O level because we did O levels at the time. I did all the normal things, English etc. but I did Geology as an extra in the sixth-form too.
Q: Do you have any regrets in your teaching career and what are they?
So my biggest regret is that I haven’t managed to get a sports hall. It’s a bit of a funny one! One of my biggest frustrations is that the sport here is amazing and always has been but we have the worst facilities. (Ed. We said we will work on that. She replied you can’t name it the Chong’s sport hall though. )
Q: If you were a biscuit what flavour would be and why?
A: That’s a really hard one! You almost want to be something like a custard cream. So that you have got different sections. So that there is something sweet in the middle but a bit of texture on the outside and a bit of crunch.
Q: What’s your favourite place to go on holiday?
A: Got to be Cornwall. I lived in Cornwall as a youngster from about 6 months to age 6. I’ve been back every year since and it’s an amazing county. Even now I can take you to beaches with nobody on them even in the summer.
Q: What was your favourite and least favourite subject at school?
A: My favourite subject has always been geography, definitely geography without a shadow of a doubt- it’s my non sporting passion and then my least favourite was probably maths. As a student, I really struggled with maths and I couldn’t see the point in maths. It all really didn’t click for me until I was a senior teacher, whereby I was doing timetables and I suddenly realised how useful maths was to me on all sorts of levels.
Q: If you had an elephant and you couldn’t sell it or give it away what would you do with it?
A: I’d build it a little house in my garden – well a big house and look after it.
Q: Do you say ‘scone’ or ‘scon’?
A: I say scone.
Q: Do you like dogs better or cats?
Q: If you hadn’t been a teacher what would you become and why?
A: Had I not got into to PE teaching I actually had a place in the Royal Women’s Naval Services which is now the Royal Navy. But the other passion I would have love to have done would have been an interior designer. I have a bit of a reputation for that. I’m one of these people that will turn my hand to anything. My best friend said to me the other day, “Is there anything you haven’t tried?” and I said “No, probably not. I always give things a go.”
Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you take with you, Mr Waters or Mr Barnard?
A: Ooh that’s an interesting one. On a desert island, I would probably take Mr Waters. He’s quite resourceful and he’s quite an outdoorsy type, he’d probably build me fires. Whereas Mr Barnard and I are too alike, we would probably go swimming all the time rather than actually doing any surviving.
Q: Who is your favourite author?
A: Oh that’s a really tough one! The trouble is it’s where you are at the time. I go through phases. I thoroughly enjoyed the Phillip Pullman books but actually as a child growing up I read Enid Blyton books and those sort of things. At the moment, my friend got me into Patricia Cornwell’s detective books. If I find an author I stick with them. Probably as an adult my favourite author is Santa Montefiore. Her books are very readable. For me reading is a real pleasure. I don’t go to sleep at night without reading and it’s my escape. So I do like a good book. I’m one of these people who generally speaking, if I start a book I will finish it even if I hate it.
Q: What school did you go to?
A: Kenwyn Street Primary School. Then my father moved jobs and we moved up to Yorkshire so I went to Giggleswick Primary School. Then I went to Marshfield but because I had a broad Cornish accent and they had a broad Yorkshire one, they couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them- so I moved to a small private school until the age of 11. Then I went to a school called Casterton school- it was a girl’s independent school and was actually Lowood from Jane Eyre. But then in year 10, because I had really struggled at this school- that is where my empathy for students comes from- you must be happy at school. My father decided that because I was desperately unhappy he should move me to a mixed grammar school just down the road. The headmaster was a friend of my father’s and he asked him “Will she cope with boys?” and my dad said “Well I think so…” This school was called Bentham Grammar School. Sadly, not one of my schools still exist.
Q: If you had to eat only one type of chocolate for the rest of your life what type would you choose?
A: White chocolate. Milky bar, white chocolate. Definitely every time!
Q: What are your plans after leaving Ribston?
A: Ok so I finish on 30th April which isn’t far away now. On the 2nd of May I am flying out to San Francisco with some friends. I will spend three weeks in the states and my younger brother lives in Kansas. I will do a bit of a tour and I will be back by the end of May. I’ve got a few different things happening. It’s my 60th birthday in June and my best friend’s as well. So we said we would do a few wacky things this year. We will go to some festivals and I just want to take some timeout. I’ve worked solidly for the last 35 years and it will be quite nice not to commit to too many things. I will still continue to be a governor at Robinswood. I would like to do some work with the youth sports trust- it’s an organisation which runs a lot of activities with youngsters. I will also continue to do a bit of work with the Duke of Edinburgh award. I’d like to do an art course, I don’t know whether to do watercolours or something like that. The biggest thing initially is I’m going to buy myself a campervan. Lots to do! I will be busy. I’m not someone who sits around.
Thank you very much.
Pleasure, hopefully you’ve got plenty there.
So, thank you very much Mrs Chong for being so willing to participate in our interesting interview. You have been a fabulous head teacher and Ribston Hall will greatly miss you. We hope you enjoy your time out and have fun in the States!
Laiba, Ilsa and Evie.