Teachwire Logo

Katty Kay – “I went to six different schools in the space of five years”

Journalist and broadcaster Katty Kay recalls how her experience of school was rather more itinerant and cosmopolitan than most …

  • Katty Kay – “I went to six different schools in the space of five years”

My father was a diplomat and we used to move around a lot. I went to six different schools in the space of five years, across three countries and in two languages, so it’s amazing I can read and write.

Before then, I’d attended a village school near our home in Blewbury, Oxfordshire. Just before my 10th birthday, in the middle of term, our family moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and I started at a local American school. I found it very difficult there, so after a term my parents moved me to a smaller British school in Jeddah, where I stayed for around a year.

I then returned to the UK and went to a boarding prep school in the New Forest for the following year, which I hated – I was terribly homesick.

By then, my parents had moved again from Saudi Arabia to Morocco. I stayed on in the UK at a different secondary boarding school in Surrey, before eventually moving to where my parents were and attended a French lycée in Casablanca for a year. I then returned to Surrey to complete my O Levels and A Levels.

An onset of cautiousness

Despite my schooling being very atypical, in other ways my experience of moving from primary to secondary school was similar to what many girls go through – namely an onset of cautiousness.

I can remember becoming more careful about what I said in class, and more concerned as to whether I’d got answers right. In that respect I was the classic ‘good girl’ who wanted to get good marks, do everything perfectly, be well behaved and gain teachers’ approval.

I was very self-motivated and wanted to succeed – not a ‘workaholic’, but certainly diligent. I can still remember an incident around the time I started at the French lycée, after being thrown into a class of 13-year-olds in Morocco, despite having previously never had so much as a French lesson in all my life.

The teacher singled me out to answer a maths problem on the board. I was actually quite good at maths, but kept getting the answer wrong because I didn’t know the French words for ‘odd’ and ‘even’.

I remember coming home from school later that day and bursting into tears, feeling as though the teacher had been looking and talking at me like I was stupid. In the end, my mum had to visit the class and explain the situation to the teacher, who evidently hadn’t figured out that I couldn’t actually speak the language…

Afraid of failing

Myself and my co-authors decided to write our book Living the Confidence Code as a way of passing on some of the inspiring stories involving teenage girls that we’d come across while researching our previous book, The Confidence Code for Girls.

For example, there’s Yekaba, a 12 year-old girl in Ethiopia who was told by her father that she would be marrying a 20-year-old village priest she’d never me before. Some of the challenges the girls in the book confront will never be faced by girls in, say, the UK or the US – but the steps they go through of meeting those challenges and developing their own confidence in the process is universal.

A lot of girls tend to underestimate their abilities compared to boys. In my career, one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is to take risks.

What tends to happen with young girls, particularly as they enter puberty, is that they become very afraid of failing. But if that’s the case, you won’t be trying new things, overcoming hurdles and doing what’s necessary to develop your confidence.

Usually, the downside of any risk you’re considering – be it raising your hand in class, auditioning for the school play or trying out for a sports team – will be far less than your overactive brain makes it out to be.

Chances are, the worst that will happen is that you simply don’t succeed – but you’ll still be there. There’s just so much more you can do if you’re prepared to deal with setbacks. If you can accept that at some point you will fail, it liberates you.

Katty Kay is the anchor of BBC World News America, based in Washington DC, and a frequent contributor to the US news shows Meet the Press and Morning Joe. Her book, Living the Confidence Code, co-authored with Claire Shipman and JillEllyn Riley, is available now (HarperCollins, £10.99).

Sign up here for your free Brilliant Teacher Box Set

Make sure your assessment is effective with these expert insights.

Find out more here >