Dr John McGrath has one memory that will stay with him always.
Years ago, while a principal in the Canadian school system, the counsellors and teachers came to him wanting a student to be expelled. He listened to them and then talked to the student.
Realising that the student came from a difficult background, he decided to let her stay.
Five years later, the girl showed up at his door. She had a teaching degree and was about to start helping others from backgrounds like hers.
“She told me her brother was living on the street and if I hadn’t stood up for her that day she’d be there too,” he said. “She wanted me to have her teaching certificate. She wanted to thank me for not only saving her life – but the lives of those students she would be teaching in the future.”
This image has stayed with him throughout the years and taught him that no child should be left behind. That there are options and people can change.
“The sad thing was that I couldn’t save her brother,” he said. “But knowing that I made a difference in her life means I can help people like her brother in the future. If we work with students, they will work with us. They want to grow up to be happy, healthy members of society. They look our way for guidance. When we give up on them, we are really giving up on ourselves. That can’t happen.”
Now, years later, after retiring from that school system, Dr McGrath is the Headmaster of the Thai-Chinese International School. He brings with him 30 plus years of experience, and a sincere hope for the future of the children under his care.
“I never wanted to stop helping people learn,” he said. “Retirement was not an option for me. I looked where I could teach, and chose Thailand because I’ve always loved Asia.”
When he was younger, he won the world Tae Kwon Do championship in Malaysia and knew from that moment that he wanted to return to Asia.
“That was one of my first looks at the outside world,” he said. “It showed me that there were people different than the people I grew up with and me. I saw, though, that while we are different, we are all human. We all have the same desires and drives. We all want the good life. As an adult, I see it as my job to do what I can to remind people of that, and work with people to show them the way.”
McGrath says that he views teaching and running a school not as only helping the children in your care, but in helping the larger community for years to come. In a way, educators create a legacy of good that radiates out across the world.
“Working in education creates a continuity,” he said. “From one generation reaching to the next, who will then reach the generation after that. You aren’t teaching one child or 10 children. You are teaching everyone whose lives they will affect in the future.”
He spent his first four years in Thailand at the American School of Bangkok, but was constantly looking for a new challenge. At the Thai-Chinese International School, he
“It wasn’t only the exceptional reputation of the school,” he said. “It was that they have a history of stressing the importance of trilingualism. I’ve always thought that that was the key to success. It broadens the mind, increases creativity, and helps you communicate better with others. It is a skill that is needed to compete in the 21st century.”
He knows this from direct experience. Both of his children are multilingual, with one speaking five languages.
“My children are my inspiration when it comes to trilingualism,” he said. “They have the world at their fingers. One is in theatre arts, and the other is a writer. They can use their languages to communicate with the world and find success wherever they go.”
Trilingualism is very close to Dr McGrath’s heart, and a real passion.
“People today talk a lot about how we need to teach STEM courses,” he said. “And it’s true. We do. But not at the expense of multiple languages. If I speak one language, I can communicate where I am. If I speak two, that broadens my world. But with three languages you can communicate across the globe. You can have a great idea in STEM – but if you can’t communicate, you can’t get it out there. You need the ability to stretch your mind and incorporate great ideas.”
Dr McGrath comes from a line of educators. Both of his parents were principals.
“Education is my chance to give back to society and help nurture its growth,” he said. “I chose The Thai-Chinese International School because it gives me a great chance to work one-on-one with both teachers and students and promote trilingual education to the world at large.”
He notes that the trilingual education at the Thai-Chinese International School has been a huge success.
“Speaking multiple languages helps people become more creative,” he said. “It helps you even not matter what career path you choose. You need to be able to think outside the box and find new solutions. It shows you ways to transmit your ideas to others and to relate to how they feel. You can forge connections that will help you throughout your life.”
He has now spent five years at the Thai-Chinese International School, and believes it is where he will be for the rest of his life.
“I was here yesterday. I’m here today. I’ll be here tomorrow,” he said. “Trilingualism matters. Education matters. Nothing is more important than learning and passing on the knowledge you acquire to others. This is where I was meant to be. This is the best school in the world, and we are constantly working to make it even better.”