Mrs Cliff's #teachereffect at St Mary's

Mrs Cliff's #teachereffect at St Mary's

We want to spend this year celebrating some of our teaching staff who help make St Mary’s School, Cambridge such an inspiring place for girls to learn and flourish. We call it the #teachereffect.

Sadly, we can’t cover all our teaching staff; however, we will be showcasing several over this year in many diverse areas and from across the school, from our Junior School to our Sixth Form. We continue our series with Mrs Cliff, who teaches Year 6 at our Junior School.

When did you start at St Mary’s?

I started teaching at St Mary’s permanently in September 2008, having taught at the school previously on a temporary basis from January to July 2007.

What did you do before you joined? 

Before I became a teacher, I was a nurse. I spent nearly 10 years working at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, most of that time I worked on the adult Intensive Care Unit looking after critically ill patients. After the birth of my two children I needed to find a job without shifts and having loved the teaching aspect of my job, I went to work as a teaching assistant in a local primary school. During my year at the school, I also completed an access to Higher Education course. I then gained a place at Cambridge University to study Education with English Literature in 2002. Following completion of my PGCE in 2006, I worked at local schools on a supply basis until I came to work at St Mary’s. I taught at St Faiths for a year in 2007 - 2008 but felt very lucky to be able to return to St Mary’s Junior School again in 2008.

Were you always interested in teaching? What fuelled that interest?

Part of my role as an ICU nurse was also to teach student nurses and train new members of staff how to care for ventilated and seriously ill patients. I took courses on how to train staff to use specialised equipment as well as an Adult Education course. Being able to teach and support others while continuing to care for my patients was extremely rewarding. While working at a local primary school as a teaching assistant and having 2 young children, I found myself drawn to primary school teaching and loved the joy that children bring to everyday life.

What have been your highlights of working at St Mary’s?

Having taught at St Marys for nearly 12 years, there are so many and probably too many to mention. I particularly love the summer term at the Junior School, as it is the term when the Year 6 girls get to have a slightly more relaxing term after all their hard work over the previous two terms. We take them on a week-long residential trip, usually to France. Last year was particularly moving as we were proud to take the girls to Thiepval as part of our WW1 topic. The other summer highlight is putting on a Shakespeare Musical play in the school gardens. This Summer term has been particularly challenging but memorable in its own way, we have all learnt so much about how quickly we are able to adapt to a new way of teaching and learning.

Why do you enjoy teaching?

I feel very lucky to be a teacher, particularly at St Mary’s, as I can whole-heartedly say I love my job. I come to school looking forward to working with the girls and seeing their enthusiasm and desire to learn. It is a pleasure to be part of a profession which is so fundamental to children and shapes their lives. I love the fact that you never quite know what the day is going to bring, but you can usually guarantee it is something to make you smile or laugh. As my role has expanded from class teacher to English Coordinator and now additionally Assistant Head, I still relish the challenge of teaching a wide range of subjects to girls who are curious and eager to learn.

In your opinion what are the benefits of teaching in an all-girls environment?

Although I have spent most of my teaching career at St Mary’s I have taught at a co-ed school and can clearly see that girls thrive in all-girls environment. They are not afraid to get really involved in all subjects and feel more confident in asking questions as well as answering the ones that I pose. Girls who join St Mary’s from other schools often say that they feel they can get on with their work without distraction and really enjoy learning again. I would say that this shows that girls feel that an all-girls environment makes them feel secure and happy. I also chose to send my daughter to St Mary’s and have additionally seen the benefits of an all-girls education as a parent, which helps me appreciate it all the more. 

What do you like to do in your free time when you are not teaching?

As both my children are now at university, it is much quieter at home and I have more time to read (although due to lock-down this isn’t quite true at the moment). I really enjoy spending weekends and holiday time away, particularly on or near water. Be it boating on the Broads or French Canals, Easter holidays with my whole family in Cornwall or simply a camping trip to Norfolk or Suffolk. Short city breaks are also something I really enjoy. I visited Amsterdam during this February half term which I loved and definitely want to return to the Netherlands, perhaps on a boat next time!

What advice do you have for all the students you have taught – past and present – to help them on their journey in life?

Try every opportunity that comes your way and never be afraid to change your mind about something. Nothing is set in stone and unless you have a go at something, you won’t know if you like it or you may discover a hidden talent you never knew you had. Having discovered the joy of teaching later on in life, I would also add, it is never too late to try something new!