If Carlsberg did Geography students… they’d be called Salome!

Matt Podbury

Matt Podbury is head of Geography at the International School of Toulouse, France. He is the author of www.geographypods.com, a free repository of teaching and learning resources for secondary school Geography. Matt is also the co-creator of www.jamesraodream.com. Together with Jim Noble (@teachmaths), he administers the ‘Live Your Dream Foundation’ at the school in James’s name.

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Website: www.geographypods.com Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Originally published on 24th June 2016. Originally published on 24th June 2016.

Let me begin by firstly explaining that this is a somewhat bizarre article to write, in the sense that it is not an ‘against all the odds’ battle to succeed in the style of Nativity (you’ve seen that film, right?) or Leicester City’s Premier League success of 2016. It’s more the story of a young student with very rare natural capabilities to shine and achieve, with or without the input of her Geography teacher.

Rewind back to summer 2014, when our head of Year 11 emailed me all to say that I would have a new student joining in September. The details were that she was an EAL student who had been studying GCSE Geography in Year 10 in her UK school, but would be joining me to finish off her qualification as an IGCSE student. My initial protest email pointing out the obvious difference in qualification, subsequent missing work and possible additional issues of understanding were met with a one line response from our HOY that I really shouldn’t worry this time, as we had a bit of a ‘superstar’ jetting over our way.

"We had a bit of a ‘superstar’ jetting over our way."

First contact through her parents was made, and my fears of spending endless hours after school filling in the missing pieces of the Geography jigsaw were quickly allayed. These initial fears were really well founded. She had missed an entire IGCSE year of teaching and our specific case studies. We had already been on our four day field visit to Spain where we had collected our data and had spent 20 subsequent hours writing up our 2000 word piece of coursework (first and second drafts) worth 27.5%. Additionally, only half of what she had done in her Y10 Geography lessons matched up with what we had done here in France. She was about to complete 80% of a content heavy IGCSE Geography course in less than one already very short French school year. Ou la la indeed!

So, let me introduce you to the student in question - Salome Steinke. A student who hails from Germany and who had been schooled in the UK for a number of years, but who was heading south to Toulouse to finish her IGCSE’s before starting her IB course in 2015. I thought that her enjoyment of IGCSE Geography may have been immediately tainted, given that I set her many, many hours of catch-up work to do over the holidays using just our VLE as reference and my email address should she need help.

I remember trying to get my school email to work on a dodgy 3G connection on top of Dune du Pilat during the summer holidays to find out our IGCSE & IB results. Once connected, I was met with a cheery message from Salome that she had finished the work and thanking me for the time I had taken to get it to her. Really?! Already?!

So fast forward to September 2015 and perhaps the most thorough and competent IGCSE catch up work ever has been presented to me to mark - completed in style, with bags of skills, amazing fluency and understanding that would not look out of place in an IB HL classroom. Issues of "Salome made a fairly immediate decision that she would use our primary data to complete the coursework."coursework were then confronted and Salome made a fairly immediate decision that she would use our primary data and her own coastal processes and human management skills acquired over the holidays to complete the coursework. The result was a piece that ranks in the top 3 that I have ever supervised at IGCSE level. A bolt on 60/60 with plenty of room to spare.

By the end of October of Year 11, all gaps were filled in and Salome continued the year by adding top grades in her Year 11 mock Geography exams. I remember thinking that if I lost the Y11 mark scheme, I could just use her responses as a pretty surefire guideline!

In the two final May exams, it is fair to say that Salome absolutely nailed them, dropping four marks over both papers to end up with a score of 216/220 overall. However, due to an internal mix up, we had no idea that she had won the award until Christmas 2015. A fairly standard looking certificate from CIE was sent through and awarded to an overjoyed Salome who was still wondering where those four lost marks went to.

I was both pleased and terrified in equal measures that Salome chose to study IB Geography. Pleased as she is a real one off and brings so much positivity and drive to the classroom and is so good with the other students. Terrified as she is a student who possesses and retains incredible subject knowledge and one that I would have to ‘differentiate up’ the classroom delivery to a high Level 7 standard to meet her needs and challenge her ability. A nicer student you could never hope to meet. An incredible linguist, and amazing in everything that she does.

Apart from her Geography teacher, I am also Salome’s CAS supervisor. The additional charity and volunteer work that she carries out in the community as part of the IBDP qualification is outstanding. She is one of my key team members in our school’s attempt to become a Fairtrade school and to set up a business supporting the initiative and local charities. If you want to take a peek, check her blog out – it gives you an idea of the calibre of student that I am talking about:


So, apart from identifying those initial gaps, setting loads of extra work, attending a few lunchtime meetings and offering friendly advice, I really didn’t make any ‘rags to riches’ difference to Salome’s achievement of ‘Best in the World’ IGCSE Geography Result. "She is a student who possesses and retains incredible subject knowledge."I think that I’ve probably done that ‘against the odds’ thing a few times in the last 14 years – and it is really, really great. However, as teachers, we take those in our stride and don’t have time to be boastful about it when faced with the ‘how will you improve upon those results?’ scenario, which quickly moves us on.

Salome’s achievement was a bit different though. When I spent the night before the exams last minute tutoring my C/D borderlines on Messenger, I didn’t have to stress about Salome, nor worry that she wasn’t going to get her A* grade! Of course she would, without question. It was a weird sensation, and I can’t imagine how this would transpire in a classroom full of Salomes. Lots of marking, high expectations and a lot less stress? I went to China and worked in a Chinese State School in Nanjing school for a week – perhaps something like that, but with a lot more fun and flair thrown in.

So, in the short term, I’m going to make the most of our last year together, before the next set of educators get to know this wonderfully gifted and very down-to-earth student. I’m very sure that she’ll be a real world-changer in the future. Remember that you heard her name here first!

Tell us about your superstar pupils in the comments section below!

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