Staff Spotlight: Stephanie Ottens, German Teacher and Community Service Champion

In our Staff Spotlight series we are speaking with our fantastic Gordonstoun staff and getting an insight into what makes them tick. Meet Stephanie Ottens, dedicated German Teacher and unstoppable Community Service Commander. Whilst she is ever modest about her achievements, Stephanie’s infectious enthusiasm is apparent, and her commitment to helping others makes her a true force of nature.

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

I'm originally from Luxembourg and I moved to the UK 14 years ago. I came to the UK for university and I never left!

I have been at Gordonstoun for about five years now. I teach German, mainly, and I’ve also taught French. I'm also Community Service Commander here at Gordonstoun, so I'm part of the Community Service, which is split into five sections:

  • Arts Service
  • Schools Service - they work with pupils with intellectual disabilities and learning difficulties from local schools
  • RDA - Riding for the Disabled Association
  • STEM Service
  • Local camps voluntary work.

I'm developing a programme right now with Cycling Without Age, Scotland, a movement to help the elderly get back onto their bicycles. I've also been also setting up a programme with Special Olympics GB, a school based programme to enable intellectually disabled kids from the whole of Moray to come to Gordonstoun and do sports recreationally and competitively, integrating with people without intellectual disabilities through sport.

What do you enjoy most about working at Gordonstoun?

I absolutely adore teaching German. I love working with Services. Most of all, I love being a tutor in Windmill boarding house. I love working with the girls at Windmill, because you really get to build that relationship with the students and steer them directly towards a path that will lead them to success. I like thinking I have maybe had a small impact, a tiny little impact on that would be great. Hopefully giving them a positive outlook and setting high expectations.

How long have you been a member of the school's community service and which part do you find most satisfying?

I've actually been part of it for three and a half years, which is a fair amount of time.

I really enjoy setting up connections, and liaising with organisations, especially with local schools. My focus has always been on people with intellectual disabilities because my brother is intellectually disabled, he's got autism and epilepsy. So a really big factor for me with community service is making sure that people with intellectual disabilities have as many options and opportunities as those without. My brother is part of Special Olympics Luxembourg actually, and as a big sister I’m very proud! He's been competing in skiing, swimming and table tennis for a number of years now and he loves it.

So what is the school's involvement in the Special Olympics - are you the driving force?

I've been working on the project for three years. A year and a half ago, I found the person at Special Olympics GB who agreed - Yes, this has to happen - we need to have a school based programme that is designed for intellectually disabled pupils to work with non-intellectually disabled pupils. Taking local schools and integrating them through sport to create meaningful, long lasting connections, relationships, happiness, hope and opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities.

So I guess I am the driving force behind it, but it's also the people at the Special Olympics who are amazing, who've been fully supportive in getting this programme running, which will hopefully start September 2024.

I'm really excited. I came to Gordonstoun, actually, because of the service programme they have here. I always knew this was something I wanted to set up while I was here, and we’re getting there, slowly but surely. Yeah, that's really exciting.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

That’s a challenging one - I'm not someone who thinks very highly of myself. One of my tutees did say to me last night that I was one of the best tutors she’d ever had!

If you ask me this question in half a year, and the Special Olympics programme is sealed and done and ready to go - that'll be my biggest achievement.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

When people ask me, you know, why have you become a teacher? I always knew I was going to become a teacher, because I always helped my brother do stuff - it was automatic.

At the age of five, I have a document that says I wanted to be a teacher. That was at age five and it hasn't changed since then, it's always been my purpose. My perfect happiness has always been making sure that other people are happy.

What is something surprising about you?

A lot of people might not know it, but I'm a massive Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings nerd.

Do you have a favourite Novel from either series?

I love how all the novels tie in so well together. With Lord of the Rings, ‘The Fellowship’ is my favourite book. But with Harry Potter it isn't possible to choose.

I love the way Tolkein writes, and I love the way he uses language, languages he invented! I think it's incredible.

What talent would you most like to have?

I would really love to be a much better hiker - I'd love to be a mountaineer. My husband loves it, he's really good at it, and I’m awful. Every time he takes me out on a mountain, I really, really struggle. I enjoy when we get to the top and I can look at the views, but I don’t enjoy it on my legs!

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

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

I was in a car accident when I was 13, I had to undergo lots of surgery, for my teeth mainly. I was in and out of the dentist for five years, every week. Then when I was 18, I had to get a big surgery too. Throughout that whole process I somehow managed to keep on top of schoolwork and stuff. Every obstacle that you can overcome, it builds a lot of resilience in you.

It may sound cheesy, but it does carry a huge amount of meaning.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I absolutely love just snuggling on the sofa with my husband and my dog, watching a series - harry potter, lord of the rings, friends - that we’ve watched over and over again and we know backwards but we still love, with chocolate.

Service to the community is one of the founding principles of Gordonstoun, helping our students to develop compassion, commitment and responsibility. To find out more about Gordonstoun’s uniquely broad curriculum, and the amazing staff who make it happen, join us for a Virtual Taste of Gordonstoun Webinar.