Thank you, Mrs Oldale!
Posted 03/06/2016 10:27

Penny Oldale – Decades of Dedication to ISB

When teacher Penny Oldale retired from International School Basel this past June, it was one of the longest serving members of staff in the school’s history.

Penny arrived at ISB in August, 1988, at a time when our whole school could still fit into one building (the beautiful and historic Hämisgarten Schoolhouse in Bottmingen). It was the year that Stephen Hawking published A Brief History of Time; Tim Berners-Lee was discussing with CERN an invention that would be launched just the following year – the World Wide Web; and, perhaps most importantly of all, Céline Dion’s stentorian vocal cords pushed Switzerland to the top of the Eurovision Song Contest scoreboard!

Penny and her class in 1989 - after her first full year at ISB.

Balloons, brilliance, and bursting at the seams

Penny recalls that when she first joined ISB as a Grade 3 teacher, those who worked there could easily squeeze into a staff room that was probably only three metres square. There was “only one class per year group and the school was very friendly, like a big family. Staff and parents could work closely together because it was so small. We didn’t have the resources we have now, but the teachers were brilliant.”

Within a year of Penny’s arrival, ISB was celebrating its tenth anniversary (Penny fondly remembers the helium balloons each child was given during a day of festivities) and the school was already experiencing its first of many major growth-spurts, with older students moving from Hämisgarten to nearby Burggarten (where the school’s first-ever tenth grade could make use of specialised science rooms). For a time, her own son, John, was a student in her class. Asked if he had to call his mother “Mrs Oldale”, Penny recalls that he “actually didn’t call me anything!” She also remembers that although his classmates were polite and reasonably formal with her at school (which was only to be expected), if they came round to the family home to play with her son, she was instantly no longer “teacher” but “John’s mum”!

From Essex to Basel (via a few places in between)

Penny grew up in the UK (“an Essex girl, born and bred”). At school, she enjoyed both Science and Art—passions which continue to the present day. Having originally contemplated a future in Veterinary Sciences, she eventually made the decision to study Agricultural Sciences at Nottingham University (where, as an undergraduate, she was a member of their ploughing team!).

At graduation, Penny’s professor suggested she join the Milk Marketing Board as an advisor – but by then Penny was much more interested in pursuing a career in education. Her desire to work with young people was influenced by the childhood memories she had of meeting students under the care of her mother (who, as the vice-principal of a large school, had responsibility for student pastoral support). After a year’s work experience in industry, Penny undertook teacher training at Keele University and then worked for several years in a secondary school as a General Science and Biology teacher. During this time she married and started a family.

A wonderful family

Like many who eventually find a new home and life in a different country, the decision to move abroad was driven by professional considerations: due to company restructuring, Penny’s husband was relocated to Basel. Penny, her husband, and two young children were suddenly launched into the expat experience. “We originally only planned to be here a year; and, if I’m honest, I came kicking and screaming!” admits Penny. Nevertheless, within a month of landing in mainland Europe, Penny began work at ISB, and things started to fall into place. “Having the job at school was like belonging to a big family – it was wonderful,” she says.

Location, location, location

In the 28 years she has been here, Penny has taught Science for ISB at six different school sites (Hämisgarten, Burggarten, Freiesgymnasium, Bachgraben, Reinach Campus, and now Fiechten Campus) to students ranging from Grade 3 (PYP6) to seniors in the DP years; for a long time she also had additional responsibility as a Head of Year, which she loved.

With almost three decades of teaching at ISB (not including the years spent teaching in England before the move to Switzerland) Penny knows a thing or two about working with young people. After all, she has taught and cared for countless hundreds of those who have passed through ISB’s doors, many of whom are now grown to adulthood, with families and livelihoods of their own in all parts of the world. Although it was only for a few months, Penny remembers the future basketball star Kobe Bryant attending ISB in the early 1990s (her youthful colleague, Mr Lloyd Hacker - now Head of Department - was Kobe’s Science teacher). Not surprisingly, a number of Penny’s ex-students have gone on to forge successful careers in the sciences.

Does Penny think that children and teenagers have changed over the years?

“Not at all – the students are always the same! It’s wonderful to see them grow from youngsters into adults. I’m still in contact with many of them. In fact, last week I attended the wedding of one of my ex-students.”

What next?

At the end of this academic year, Penny will be performing those familiar end-of-day school rituals (bags packed? chairs under tables? windows closed?) for the final time. As someone who says she doesn’t “understand the concept of being bored,” it will come as no surprise to learn that she has plenty of things lined up to occupy her after retirement this June. An avid walker (“I value my knees and hips too much to run!”) and a passionate gardener, she also describes herself as “very arty-crafty. I’m always making things, painting, doing paper-craft, knitting, sewing, crocheting.” She has recently rediscovered pottery, and will be signing up to weekly lessons once she retires. She is also looking forward to being able to spend more time with her two grandchildren, who live in the UK.

Through all the years that Penny has been in education, it is undeniable that the genuine joy she derives from being a teacher has never diminished: “I just love working with young people,” she muses. “I get a huge amount of satisfaction from teaching them new skills, seeing the progress they make and getting the best out of them. They are all such lovely personalities!”