Mr Tom Lawrence, Concord’s Vice Principal (academic) is retiring after 34 years at the College. As our longest-serving academic staff member, Mr Lawrence is not only a respected English teacher but is also responsible for managing our department heads, heads of houses and grade performance too. For many students and alumni, he is the person who introduced them to Concord and is also often credited with helping them make important decisions about their life plans after leaving. Please enjoy this retirement interview with Mr Lawrence where he tells us how he found himself at our wonderful international college, and shares some of his memories from the last three decades. Q) As Vice Principal (academic) of Concord College you have helped many of our students decide on their future university and career paths. What or who influenced you to become a teacher and why did you choose English as your subject?
I never had any ambitions to be a teacher when I was growing up, despite the fact that my father was a head teacher and I came from a teaching family. In fact, I spent the first six months of my working life as a painter and decorator! I graduated with a degree in history from Kings College and then applied for a position with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) . I was interested in contributing to their work helping people living in the world’s poorest and most fragile regions, not by sending aid but by empowering them and sharing skills. They said they’d like to offer me a place and that I would make a good teacher. With no teaching experience or qualification, I then began my career as an English teacher.Q) How did you end up at Concord?
During my time with VSO I had the opportunity to work in Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone for several years. I then returned to the UK to take a PGCE teaching qualification and went on to teach English in Sweden, which is where I met Mrs Lawrence, now a Concord biology teacher. Immediately after our wedding, we moved to Japan and spent over three years there - in fact our son, Tim, who is also now a teacher at Concord, was born in Tokyo. After over three years of busy city life, we eventually decided to move back to the UK with the hope that we would find a job in an English market town. I searched for jobs in The Guardian and applied for a job at Concord, even though I had never heard of it or been to Shropshire before. I remember my job interview took place on 26th March 1989 and Mr Tony Morris, Concord's Principal, immediately offered me a position teaching English and sport, which I accepted. It was the first time I had been asked to teach sport, and I remember in those early days driving students to the racket centre in Telford and organising house table tennis.Q) What were your first impressions of Concord and what was it like then?
We had just come from the huge city of Tokyo and when I saw Concord and the countryside surrounding it, I thought ‘wow’. At that time Tony Morris was in charge, supported by John Henney, Tony Foster, John Leighton and Jack Phillips. There were just 220 students here and there were five English teachers in our team.Q) You have worked with three principals. In your view what has tied Concord together over this period of big change? In other words, what do you think is at the heart of Concord and what changes, do you think, have made the biggest impact?
Over the last 30 years Concord has grown from just over 200 students to more than 600. Despite this huge growth it has successfully managed to keep its family atmosphere and visiting alumni from the 1980s would still recognise it today. It is important to me to work in a place where everyone knows everyone’s names, and I hope that is something the College will keep in the years to come.Q) For many students, especially in China, Vietnam, Nigeria and Japan, you are the person who introduced them to Concord. How many countries have you visited on your Concord travels? Do you get time when you’re away to explore the cities you visit? If you do, what do you enjoy about it? Any special places to mention?
I have travelled to Korea, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Russia, Nigeria and Botswana to meet potential Concord students and their parents, as well as catching up with alumni whenever there is time. Sadly, these trips are too busy and too short to allow any time to explore these regions but, if I had to choose, I would love to see more of Vietnam and Japan.Q) What is the most fun you had at Concord?
I do like to use humour in classes as it is a great way to bond and get to know everyone. I also enjoy it when students can have a bit of fun at my expense. Grammar has always been very important to me and although it is always evolving, my students know I have particular complaints. One of these is the use of the word ‘however’ which is now increasingly used the replace the word ‘but’. One student memorably gave me a leaving gift where every ‘however’ mistake I had corrected in her essays had been carefully cut out and pasted into a card. It did make me laugh and is typical of the memories that make me smile.Q) You help students not only with curriculum problems but are good at cheering them up when important exams are looming! Can you pass on any top tips for handling stress?
During the exam period there are always pressures and students can sometimes let these build up until they feel overwhelmed. In these circumstances, it is important first of all to listen, but then to slowly probe and ask students questions about their background, their family, their previous school etc – all just to remind them about the wider world, and their part in it. Concord's former Principal, Mr Hawkins, used to do an excellent assembly about a ‘storm in a teacup’. He showed a picture of a sailing ship which seemed to be in a raging ocean, and it looked like everyone aboard would drown. However, when the picture panned out, it was seen to be just a small ship in a tea-cup. The message was that if you step back and look at things from a distance you will be able to put your problem into perspective. It is helpful for all students that all things will pass.Q) What will you miss about your current role and what are you looking forward to next?
I am retiring as a teacher and as Vice Principal but will continue as a roaming Concord ambassador so if you are attending a boarding school show in the months and years ahead, we may still meet. I will miss the daily contact with Concord teachers and students but plan to stay involved.Q) What would you like to say to our students?
At the end of every academic year students say thank you to their teachers and send many cards and gifts. I would like to say a big thank you back to our students. They enrich our lives when they are here and to be included and remembered by them in their future lives is an honour.