The Secret Lives of Teachers

Revealing the past careers and interesting hobbies of some of Shanghai's educators

by Jessica Levine | Thu, November 03, 2016

As children, we see our teachers as role models, as people who know everything about every subject. They stand in front of the classroom and demand respect, and often times act as second mothers and fathers. As parents, we still see them as role models, but also as the people who shape our children.

But what about who they are as people? How much do we really know about them, outside of the classroom? We reached out to five of Shanghai's international educators to find out. And the results may surprise you.


Subathra Saravanan, Secondary Science Teacher at YCIS

Former News Anchor

How did you get started in this field? “My father worked as a film editor, so I was introduced to media from a young age. I was also interested in mass communication, and I did my diploma in journalism in addition to a master’s in biochemistry. I was a TV news presenter for four years for the national television channel of India (Doordarshan).”

What was it like being a news anchor? “My job included live presentation of the news in the studio, and at times reporting from the location where an incident or event was happening. I had to wake up as early as 3:30am to get to the TV station, get camera-ready and become familiar with the day’s news before presenting at 6am. Sometimes there would be breaking news, which we would need to read for the very first time live on screen. One such incident was the news of the plane hijack in Kandahar in 2000. When I read the news for the first time, we did not know the gravity of the situation, which we later came to understand. There are so many things happening before you present the news and even during the broadcast, and it was always important to not show any personal emotions.”

What were the highlights? “Of course, who doesn’t like a bit of celebrity status? During my time as a news presenter, people recognised me and acknowledged my onscreen presence. Working in newscasting brought a certain level of respect and credibility.”

How does it relate to teaching? “I can now teach my students about how to do public presentations with style. Engaging with the audience and being comfortable when speaking in public are skills that need to be developed and fine-tuned for future success.”


Tony Rampton, Grade 5 Teacher, SSIS

Former Olympic basketball player for New Zealand 

How did you become an Olympic basketball player? “When I was young, I played all sports, and I’ve always been tall. My mum played basketball and netball, so she got me into it. After graduating from Iowa State University, I became a professional basketball player for 11 years.”

What were the highlights? “I enjoy the speed and skill involved in the game. Throughout my career, I was able to travel and see many parts of the world. Notable highlights for me are competing at two Olympic Games (Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004) and winning a silver medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Another highlight is the lifelong friendships you form with your teammates.”

How does it relate to teaching? “Basketball has given me skills – like work ethic, being prepared, communication skills and many more – that have allowed me to transition from a professional athlete to a teacher.”


Pippa Jacobi, Librarian at Wellington College 

Former Children's Casting Director

How did you get started in this field? “I was fortunate enough to be working for a casting director who had to go to Dublin and find lots of young children for a film called The Snapper. The thought of it filled her with dread, so she asked me to go. I loved the whole process, from finding ‘raw talent’ to working alongside the children on-set.”

What was it like being a casting director? “It starts with reading the script and having ideas about children you already know from previous films. Then, depending where the film is set, you pack your bags and head off. I would contact local schools, drama groups, youth theatres and run workshops based on character traits I was looking at for the role/s. If I was looking for a family, like for The Chronicles of Narnia and Nanny McPhee, it was a challenge to get them to look similar but very easy to make them comfortable with each other so they ‘felt’ like siblings.”

What were the highlights? “The highlights were many, but I always loved going to the ‘read-through.’ This would be the first time the whole cast of a film (in most cases) sit round a table with the director and read through the script. The most difficult, but ultimately rewarding, casting process was for Billy Elliot. I visited many schools in the north of England looking for the perfect Billy. When I told the boys the premise of the film, the usual reaction was ‘Eww, dancing is for sissies,’ followed by the resounding sound of 50 chairs scraping the floor. Children are not at all afraid to speak their minds. It can be quite refreshing.”

How does it relate to being a librarian? “The role of casting director taught me how to get the best out of children and teenagers – if they are under too much pressure, it can knock creativity and curiosity on the head like a shot. The library at Wellington College is a safe space dedicated to creative exploration.”


Pam Snow, Year 4 Teacher, NAIS Pudong

Skydiving Enthusiast 

When did you start skydiving? “It is something I have wanted to do since I was a child, watching the Red Devils parachute into local fetes and teams on the television. It was while teaching English at a summer school in Yorkshire 17 years ago that I got talking to another teacher. His hobby was skydiving, so he took me to visit the local parachute club. I did a tandem jump there, where you are clipped to an instructor. Then, the following year, I completed the course to do my first solo parachute jump. For this, you are attached to the plane, so when you jump out, the parachute is pulled out automatically. Since then, I have achieved over 1,700 jumps.”

What have been the highlights? “I have been on four-way and eight-way formation teams, winning many medals and awards, including one for National Champions at the intermediate level last year. I have also taken part in many larger formations, the biggest being with 73 skydivers jumping from four planes. As part of a charity event for the Red Cross, I took part in a jump with 67 other women, where we built a cross in the sky wearing red jumpsuits.”

Why do you enjoy it? “The actual skydive itself is very good at easing stress! For one whole minute of freefall, your mind is completely free from the worries of the day. Also, I get to spend time with likeminded people, of all ages and from all walks of life, doing something we love.”

How does it relate to teaching? “Competitive skydiving actually encompasses six of the eight personal learning goals at NAIS Pudong: adaptability (to teammates of differing abilities and experience levels), resilience (when training, even if we are tired, we have to stick at it), communication (key to both training and in the air), thoughtfulness (to identify personal strengths and weaknesses and consider teammates’ points of view), cooperation (as a team, it is important that we work together to achieve our targets) and respect (for team members). I have also learned that it is OK to take risks. I take risks in my teaching to ensure children have the most exciting lessons, and I encourage children to take risks with their learning and to try new ways of doing things, even if it is outside their comfort zone.”


Sarah Thompson, Pre-K Teacher, Dulwich College

Hobby: Boxing

When did you start boxing? “I got involved when a co-worker participated in the Brawl on the Bund event. I just remember thinking, ‘I could do that.’ A short time later, I was signed up at Golden Gloves Gym for training. I’ve always been into fitness, but had yet to find a sport that I truly enjoyed. Two years and three fights (at Brawl on the Bund) later, I’m still loving it!”

What have been the highlights? “Throughout the training, you become so close with your teammates and coaches. You are all working so hard, you really become a family. Some of my best friends in Shanghai are people I’ve trained with – or fought! My favorite part of a fight is the overwhelming support of the crowd. I’ve always had such a fantastic group of friends that has shown up, and their cheers and shouts have made it all worth it. Win or lose, they are always so proud and so supportive.”

Why do you enjoy it? “I like the mental and physical challenge – I have yet to find a sport that requires as much stamina, and the strategy and mental focus required of you when you step in the ring is impressive. I can always improve, and I love seeing the ways in which I have improved as a boxer. It’s improved my reflexes, mental focus and, of course, physique.”

How does it relate to teaching? “It’s a great stress reliever! Taking it out on the bag helps me be at my best in the classroom. I’m much happier in general! Also, though the trainings go quite late and I get less sleep than I used to, I have more energy to get through my day. I know I’m a better teacher for it!”