Staff Spotlight: Mike Kourpanidis, Year 4/5 Class Teacher

In our Staff Spotlight series we are speaking with our fantastic Gordonstoun staff, getting an insight into what makes them tick. Meet Mike Kourpanidis, our Year 4/5 teacher lovingly known to many in the Junior School as the ‘Big Friendly Giant’.

Tell us a bit about yourself, what you do and how long you have worked at Gordonstoun

I'm from Australia, and I moved to Scotland in 2019. Growing up all I wanted to be was a builder, or anything to do with construction, I was completely obsessed with it as a child. After school, I ended up doing my gap year at a school in Scotland, down in Perthshire, and that made me really want to get involved in the boarding house environment and work in a primary school.

As soon as I came back to Australia, I moved out of the town I grew up in, Canberra, and moved to Melbourne where I started studying to become a primary school teacher. Four years later, I started working and eventually thought I want to try giving it a go in the UK. I've been here for five years now at Gordonstoun, working in the Junior School. I'm also now co-house parenting with Nell Taylor in Plewlands House as well.

What do you enjoy most about working at Gordonstoun?

I think the community is a massive one.

I remember the first thing I was told when I started working here, is that it's like living in a submarine. When the term times on, you're all underwater, you're in it together, you're trying to work your hardest. When you get to the holidays you can finally come up for air and breathe. Then you realise the first thing you want to do when you finish the term, is catch up with those colleagues that you've been working with all week! It can be a week into the holidays, you've recovered from all those late nights of sleep, and you find yourself thinking - you know, I kind of miss the kids in the corridors and all the noise in the boarding house!

I'm always excited every term to get back and have the class in front of me again, because the kids are genuinely really good fun, they're really good sports, and they want to try everything. Then you feel like you have to try everything as well, so they make you step out of your comfort zone a little bit too.

What is happening in your class right now?

We've been really pushing our inquiry units over the last couple of years here in the Junior School. Because I've got a composite class this year, it means I've gotten the chance to be a bit more creative with what topics we're doing. We're just starting a new topic that I haven't taught before, which is all about the Age of Exploration. Exploration has linked us to the past, to the present, and what it holds for the future. The kids have really bought into that because there's so much range, from looking at Sir Francis Drake, to the future of spaceships to Mars and things like that, and because it crosses so well into all the curricula.

Every term we try to do something new with our learning. We're currently studying Scottish poetry, which is something I never thought as an Australian I would have to teach. I've also taught PE at the school here before and Scottish dancing was another challenge! Every day is a learning day here, even for the teachers.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Definitely moving overseas. I'll never forget when I told my parents that I was going to move overseas and teach. I remember the exact conversation, sitting on a couch with my parent's in front of me, and my dad was just like, “what are you talking about? You've only taught a couple years here! This sounds ridiculous! Where are you going to live, you don't even know this place, Elgin”.

I've been very blessed with my job here. I've been able to coach the sports that I like, have been able to keep up with hobbies that I did back in Australia, and I’ve been introduced to new ones too. Where we are location wise, has allowed me to travel all around Scotland, and see places I never thought I would. I was able to go to Orkney, I was able to get engaged to my partner there. Of course, I met my partner Nell here as well, we both started working at Gordonstoun at the same time.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Oh, wow, my idea of perfect happiness. Being employed, being happy, having a family that's supporting you. Ultimately, you’ve got to keep your brain active, you’ve got to keep yourself physically active, and then I think you need to be culturally active too. It's those things all balanced, like a tripod. You can take happiness anywhere, as long as you have those three things.

What is something surprising about you?

I'm quite a secret artist. I do a lot of artwork that people don't really know about. I did art to quite a high level at school and it was one of my best subjects.

I never really had a huge love of animals before, but I've surprised myself, now living over here with two dogs, a cat and a bearded dragon ‘Aurora’ in the classroom as well.

Tell us about Aurora!

I was always curious about reptiles growing up. I bought Aurora off a guy who worked for the RAF, he was moving to Cyprus. It's very hard to get a passport for a lizard these days because they're actually native to Australia! He said he’d love it if she went somewhere like a classroom. She’s been very nice, and she is the best pet and classmate.

The kids absolutely love her. And the best thing is, she's very quiet and she sort of just sits still. But when she does move, everyone gets excited. Sometimes I'll have her out while I'm teaching, she quite likes being on my shoulder.

The students look after her as well, they will chop up the kale and feed her, or they'll give her a spray of water. Sometimes I pull her out and they have a feel of her which is very fun. Occasionally we give her a worm as well, apparently for a lizard they’re the equivalent to one Mars Bar!

What talent would you most like to have?

I have to say, when I was growing up, all I wanted to be was a superhero. I was absolutely obsessed with Marvel Comics, and I'm still really into my pop culture and my comic books. I think it would have to be the ability to make a unique superhero, or have a storyline that I could read every day that I always enjoyed and that I could do the artwork for.

If it wasn't that, it would have to be some sort of superpower, like flying - I like to travel, I like to go to places, so that would make things a lot faster.

Is there a quote or saying you live your life by?

“Sic Parvis Magna”- that's Latin that means “Greatness from small beginnings”.

It's one that I took quite literally when I heard it at first, and I thought, well, that's applicable to everybody. But in particular, since becoming a teacher, it's definitely one that I see in all the kids here. We really don't really know what their potential greatness is, and neither do they. But they all do have that small beginning and in the Junior School it's uniquely set up to nurture that, and to try and build that doorway for them to walk through.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I'm a big ice cream fan. If I see ice cream I must stop and eat it. I'm trying to be good these days leading up to the wedding, but a ‘Ben and Jerry's’ - I could easily finish the tub.

Thanks Mike for taking the time to chat with us!

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