An appreciation of an inspirational teacher
Clare Smith lived on Corporation Road, Ilkeston, but spent the last two and a half years of her life in a care home in her beloved Scotland. She died in 2007. I only knew her for a short while, but she was one of those people who leave an indelible impression on you. I met her when she came to my workplace, Moorleys, with a book of memories she had written. It was called ‘I Did It My Way’ and was subtitled ‘....in the days when teaching was a joy’.
She touched the lives of many people as a teacher of slow learners at Sandiacre Friesland School. Her book is full of examples of getting the best out of pupils who lacked confidence and saw themselves as failures. Clare (known as Miss Chambers, her maiden name) had the knack of getting them to believe in themselves, and she did this by letting them taste success, even if in only a small way.
One such pupil was ‘Billy’ who was small and shy. On finding out he could play a penny whistle, Clare got him to bring it to school and play in front of the class. Everyone was half expecting a terrible din, but was delighted to discover he could play well. “Suddenly the air was filled with the sweetest melody and our feet began to tap to the rhythm of an Irish jig.” Clare then asked him to play in front of the whole school. “I shall never forget his happy face as he played his penny whistle and enthralled everyone there,” she recalled.
Clare had such a reputation for getting the best out of pupils that other teachers asked her to write down guidelines for them.
Among them were: always have a positive approach, e.g. “You’ve got two right” rather than “You’ve got four wrong,” and listen when a child wants to tell you something, even when you are busy. Another rule was: be courteous, say please and thank you and apologise when you know you are in the wrong.
Whenever Clare was met by former pupils who had grown up and had their own families, she was usually introduced with awe and respect. One who had given her a hard time to begin with but later established a good relationship said to his kids: “This is Miss Chambers and you behave where she is. She was my other mother.”
I’m sure Clare touched many lives during her lifetime and will be remembered fondly by those who were fortunate enough to have her as a teacher and a friend.
She would be the first to admit she wasn’t particularly ‘clever’ but she had an abundance of common sense, a faith in God and a compassion for strugglers. She saw it as her mission in life to help anyone who had got left behind.
Concluding her book, Clare said she was overwhelmed by all the gifts and tributes she received when she retired. “One which I shall always treasure takes up very little space. It’s just a card, with a picture of a cat, on which a colleague in the English department had written a poem. This is it.
A light which burns steadily to show the way,
An ear which listens readily to what children say,
A hand which guides gently or holds a tight rein,
An eye far-seeing, beyond faces plain,
A voice without tremor in speaking her mind,
A mind that’s incisive, direct but kind,
A heart with compassion for those who’ve done wrong,
A friend to thousands from Friesland’s throng.