With a lifetime of school memories as a learner, teacher, headmaster and school managing director, Shaun Fuchs has penned his journey of dedication to excellence in schools in a candid and insightful memoir.
When Bryanston’s Shaun Fuchs mentioned American singer, Gloria Gaynor’s I am what I am, during our interview, we recognised that the reference did more than simply answer a question. It sums up the core theme of his memoir, Fush.
Shaun is unafraid to be himself.
It’s a life lesson that this leading educationalist hopes readers will learn from his story of pride, respect and leadership. ‘Be yourself, no matter what,’ says Shaun.
Transparent. Honest. And captivating. Fush takes readers on Shaun’s education journey, from learning how to harness his own power to creating inclusive schooling environments for all learners to be themselves. But this is by no means a stale textbook read.
Through candid and amusing tales, we learn about Shaun’s rugby-playing, photograph-taking school years – where he once found himself wearing high heels and a dress on stage. He shares his student days at Wits University and the Johannesburg College of Education – his favourite part of his memoir to write. And he takes us on his journey as a teacher, rugby coach, headmaster and school managing director. In our northern suburbs, he worked at Fourways High School and Crawford College Lonehill before taking up the post of managing director of Reddam House Schools.
‘It’s quite strange to read my own stories and think that they actually make for a good read,’ says Shaun. They do. His anecdotes will make you snort with laughter, sympathise and, at times, squirm… For those who’ve asked but never found the answer to what really happened to the index and middle fingers on Shaun’s right hand, the truth lies in this book. But we warn you, it’s not for the squeamish!
While Shaun details some rather vulnerable life lessons, he says he had no qualms about telling any parts of his story – and it’s here he references the words of the esteemed American singer. ‘As Gloria Gaynor once sang, “I am what I am.” Being gay is as much a part of who I am as is being a man or having two arms… Readers have appreciated the transparency and honesty.’
In his memoir, Shaun details his journey as a gay man at a time when he felt ‘South African society was a lot more closed-minded than it is today’, and, as he reflects on his achievements in the education sector, he says he’d like to think his biggest has ‘been about creating a positive awareness for the LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer] community’. Although he adds, ‘We still have a long way to go.’
He’s always ‘abhorred’ any form of discrimination and bullying. ‘For me, my own experiences made me want to create environments that were free from discrimination and bullying. By making the bully the odd one out and the exception, they soon learn that what they are doing is wrong. When I was principal, it was about extending that environment and challenging some people’s belief that societies only function according to certain beliefs.’
Shaun’s journey shows being a leader is not easy, not even for someone like him who seems to have had built-in leadership capabilities from a young age, as he says, ‘My mom said I was always like this.’ As he recounts his time as the headmaster of Crawford College Lonehill – especially in the second-last chapter – the proverb, ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ rings true.
It’s a particularly sad section of his memoir to read, and for Shaun, it was the toughest part to write. ‘I struggled a lot with the second-last chapter which dealt with the loss of my godchild, Kyle.’ He speaks of how during such raw times, ‘it’s the headmaster’s role to keep the community together’ as he describes his own pain in the book.
Shaun says there are many forms of leadership. ‘I think the most important aspect is that you take time to listen, always remember there are human beings that are following or looking up to you. They are real people, treat them like that.’ It’s advice that Shaun demonstrates in his storytelling style too. He speaks to the reader as he recounts his vivid memories. ‘The advantage of a memoir is that you already have the stories, you just need to unpack them.’ In fact, Shaun says he didn’t find the creative process challenging, taking a mere six months to compile his memoir.
In March, he left his post as the managing director of Reddam House Schools to focus on Fush, which launched during the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and to focus on a new and exciting challenge – the launch of S2 Innovations, with former student Stephen Tyszowiecki. Shaun says along with partners in the Netherlands, they’ve developed a tracking tool which consists of a web-based portal and app. Users of the app, either in a company or an educational organisation, participate anonymously in a well-being programme to answer weekly questions curated by a professional psychologist and psychiatrist. ‘The questions are designed to pick up certain trends and themes over a period of time and report this data back to the organisation in friendly charts, graphs and alerts. Themes include burnout, harassment, dissatisfaction and stress. In today’s new world of remote work and learning, and in a post-Covid-19 environment, this is the perfect tool to measure and ensure the ongoing wellness of students and employees.’
This new challenge demonstrates Shaun’s journey in the education sector is by no means complete as his passion for excellence in schools continues to burn bright.
Grab your copy
Shaun Fuchs’ memoir, Fush, is written by Shaun with Tudor Caradoc-Davies. Burnet Media, R320.