new Head of School at the Lanna International School is a quiet
Englishman, Roy Lewis. Yet behind the British reserve there is a
man who has travelled the globe extensively. He has lived in
Arctic Norway, worked in Africa, Chile and Turkey and is a
committed environmentalist who believes that the diverse world
that he has experienced has bolstered his belief in the goodness
Roy was born in London, UK, the son of a gas
engineer. He was a good student, and finished his secondary
education at Chichester High School, one of the best state run
schools in England. He wanted to study geography at the tertiary
level. “I knew I wanted to study geography for all the wrong
reasons - an inspirational teacher,” he said.
Rightly or otherwise, he went to Manchester
University to study geography - a three year course. Having
graduated, the inspiration was still burning brightly and he
applied to do research for the following three years. “It was
into the processes associated with patches of snow in Arctic
Norway,” he told my disbelieving ears! To do this research
involved his building his own cabin above the tree line in the
Arctic and suffering extreme privations, let alone the freezing
cold. “The locals though I was mad. In retrospect, in many
ways, yes!” he said, laughing at himself.
After the three year self-imposed
refrigeration he applied for an academic posting as a glacial
geomorphologist, but the world was not all that needy, and so he
looked around for something else. “I drifted into school
teaching, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it!” And what did he
teach? Geography and Geology, the two subjects he really knew.
He rose very quickly in the new profession,
becoming head of department before he moved to Bristol, to teach
in the grammar school there. During his seven years tenure in
Bristol he began going on safaris to Africa. He had always had a
great love for African wildlife and became a regular on overland
trips. In this way he got to become acquainted with Zaire and
Rwanda, and also became acquainted with the courier/cook on the
safari. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach they
say, and that cook must have been a good one, as she is now Mrs.
With both of them enjoying the African
continent, Roy began looking for employment there and took the
post of academic administrator for the opening of a new school
in Bophuthatswana (Mafeking). They stayed there for six years
before the wanderlust and the thoughts of new geography to
explore became too much and they went to Santiago in Chile for a
short contract and then on to Ankara in Turkey.
He enjoyed Ankara, but had started to explore
SE Asia on holidays, coming to Chiang Mai as a tourist in 2002.
They liked what they saw and when fate, in the form of Chiang
Mai resident, Harry Deelman, who runs a teacher placement agency
introduced the concept of working in Chiang Mai, they took it.
“We were going to come back for another holiday,” he said.
So here they are. “They” covers Roy and his wife, their cat
which adopted them in Ankara 18 months ago, and their dog which
came from South Africa to Turkey to Thailand.
Having had the run-down on the animals, I
asked Roy about children, but as they married late in life they
have decided against having any. “It’s a regret,” he said,
“but I don’t sit and contemplate it for any great length of
time. Anyway, I’ve got 182 (Lanna International) children
Now they are here, he is looking forward to
exploring Chiang Mai further and Thailand itself and then on to
SE Asia as a whole. “It’s very much a geographer’s
assessment. I want to go to the Himalayas. I used to do a lot of
trekking and my wife and I have a fascination for Bhutan and a
great love of wildlife.”
That love of wildlife is such that when I
asked him about highlights in his life he replied,
“Highlights? The joy of watching animals. Elephants with
babies being chastised at water holes. This is a joy.” This
was all said without any self-consciousness at all. Roy Lewis
does feel for the natural world around him.
His hopes for the school are to develop the
secondary school and give it more focus while developing a
suitable curriculum. He also wants to develop the environmental
aspects of the school curriculum, and admits to personally being
an environmentalist. Having spent three years researching in the
Norwegian environment did not apparently dampen his enthusiasm.
(I’m sure it would have done more than dampen mine!)
He holds strong views on teacher appointments
and maximizing their potential within the school. “It takes a
good year to settle into a new school. I have never believed in
two year contracts, because to get the most out of a teacher,
and give the best to a school, it takes more than two years.”
Taking this further, he wants his own appointment to be a long
term one, so that he can carry out his ideas in education as
well. “You have to develop that ‘thirst’ (for knowledge)
amongst the children,” he said. Looking back at his own life -
that ‘thirst’ that was produced by an inspirational teacher
was not, I believe, sending him on his life’s course “for
all the wrong reasons” but for all the right ones.
He believes that the ordinary person in the
developing world has a wonderful respect for education, which
unfortunately is not necessarily so in the UK. “It’s sad
that I no longer wish to work in the UK, the country that did
give me my education.”
Sad indeed, but we should look upon it as
fortunate that Chiang Mai can attract educators of the calibre
of Roy Lewis, a man who does believe in the goodness of mankind.
We need more people like Roy Lewis.