Paving the Way for Our Students' Dreams

An interview with Jo Mattingley-Nunn, Teacher of Humanities & University Guidance Counsellor

Jo Mattingley-Nunn is University Guidance Counsellor at the British School of Bucharest and also teaches Geography across Secondary. She joined the school's Humanities Department in 2015 and took on the newly created role of University Guidance Counsellor in 2018. A Geography graduate from the University of Leicester, Jo went on to teach Geography, Geology and History within the British school system before moving overseas, teaching in international schools in southeast Asia and western Europe.

What made you want to join BSB?

I had visited Romania in 2002 for a few months, working in an orphanage in Râmnicu Vâlcea. Since then, I had kept an eye on the news from Romania, and so, when we were looking to leave Spain but stay in the EU, the job at BSB seemed perfect!

In how many countries have you lived?

Four – The UK, Thailand, Spain and now Romania.

Which school, where you have taught, was most different to BSB? From a cultural and sociological point of view.

My school in Thailand was quite a contrast to BSB, even though it was a similar size and type of school, still doing IGCSEs and A Levels. Culturally, Thai children are extremely quiet and respectful of teachers, and there is even a teacher appreciation day once a year. If a child forgot their homework, they would bow to apologise! It sounds like it might be a teacher’s dream, but it was actually a little boring, as there was very little debate in the classroom.

What made you decide to become the University Guidance Counsellor for BSB? What do you enjoy the most about this role?

The University Guidance Counsellor role is perfect for me as, in each of my previous schools, I have always been involved in helping students decide where to go and how to apply. The thing I enjoy most is meeting ex-students when they return to BSB to say hello, seeing how independent, mature and relaxed they have become once in their chosen university environment.

How do you think your multicultural experience helps you in your everyday life, as a teacher and as a counsellor?

As a Geography teacher, my experience helps as there are always examples I can give from my own life when explaining ideas to students, in fact just this week I was talking about my reasons to migrate when talking with Y12 students about push and pull factors. Equally I can use their experiences as well. As a counsellor I think it helps me because our students can go anywhere in the world, and I can support and help with that, not just the UK.

What is the most frequently asked question you get as University Guidance Counsellor?

Honestly, when students are filling out applications it’s ‘what’s my postcode?’ Why don’t young people know postcodes these days?! But more seriously, the most common questions are either about finance, or about jobs for the future, as so many roles are changing all the time.

How do you think this ’new normal‘ will impact the students preparing their university applications?

It’s scary applying to university when you have no idea what the university experience will be like. We don’t know if some countries will be in lockdown next September, or back to normal, and so it’s hard for students to decide where they want to be. Normally, we have students spending the October and February holidays travelling to explore universities in the UK and the Netherlands especially and obviously, that can’t happen at the moment. So, students have to commit to spending three or four years in a place they’ve never been, and that’s really tough. Also, traditional aspects of the application process such as interviews are all now online, which is just a completely different experience to prepare for.

How do you connect with your students while practising social distancing?

My office is open for Sixth Form students to drop into, as long as they’re wearing a mask and don’t mind me spraying sanitiser everywhere! Younger students can schedule a meeting with me in their ‘bubbles’ as well, especially Year 11 who are starting to think about Sixth Form options. And for students isolating at home, we can Google Meet.

What do you think are the most significant challenges that students face today?

The main challenge for students in the face of the pandemic is, as it is for most of us, their mental health and resilience, in the face of so much change to their lifestyles and not seeing family and friends, especially if they are overseas. The ongoing challenge for young people is preparing for careers and their future roles in a world which is changing all the time. That’s why further and higher education is so important; the research and study skills and higher-level thinking are what’s required in the future, not specific skills sets for certain careers, which might not exist in 20 years’ time. Today, only between 20% and 30% of people do a job directly related to their degree (depending on the country), and that will decrease all the time, as employers look for wider experiences and knowledge bases. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to choose a degree that you love and will teach you a variety of skills.

How will you help children to readjust to School life?

By keeping everything as normal as possible. I still expect my classes to work hard, to behave well and to talk to me. So many things are different now, I think it’s important to keep some normality where possible.

How is remote counselling working at BSB?

One of the better sides of the pandemic is that everyone is now much more tech-savvy and used to collaborating, so we can have lots of edits of personal statements on Google Docs, with different teachers, other students and me all working together to suggest possible changes. It also means there are daily webinars and online fairs from universities all around the world, so there’s lots of opportunities for me and the students to learn more about a far wider range of universities than before.

What inspires you to be creative?

My great colleagues in the Humanities department at BSB and also the global network of university advisers that I am part of, IACAC. Working together with people around the world, seeing what they do in their schools and sharing best practice is the best part of my job.

If you weren’t a full-time teacher and counsellor, what would your dream job be?

As a child I wanted to be a dolphin trainer at Sea World, but that’s not acceptable anymore. So probably a marine biologist.

And finally: tell us something unexpected about yourself.

I was the first child at primary school to be able to write my (first) name…

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