A Tribute to Mr Clifford Haskins

I was telling my daughter that teachers have the power to shape lives and create destinies….for the better and also for the worse, depending on the teacher.

As I was telling her this, I thought about my chemistry teacher. I googled him, and much to my sadness, I found that there is nothing written about him at all, just announcements of his funeral.  He was such a great but humble man, so I decided to write this, for the world to remember him by.


Mr Clifford Haskins taught me chemistry. He studied chemistry at Oxford and returned to our lovely county (Hampshire) to teach in the local school.

I was lazy and rebellious. I had come to the school with three meagre O levels. I was also a teenage unwed mum. You couldn’t get a worst combination in a student than what I was.

“You could go up to Oxford you know,” he told to me seriously. “You just need to work a little harder.”

Well, that’s NOT what people have been telling me.

He didn’t get too annoyed when I messed around in his class and didn’t do my homework. “I was in Milan,” I would tell him airily.

“Oh my goodness me, did you have a good time?” He would reply, totally unflustered. I get the feeling he laughed at us behind our backs, or when his back was turned to us.

Towards exam time, he would get a little flustered. “Just listen to me for fifteen minutes, please!” He would beg the class, appealing to our goodwill.  But those 15-minute segments were very effective. He must have stayed up for hours in his cottage on Langstone preparing for the 15 minutes.

We listened to him for 15 minutes as part of the deal, and then spent the rest of the lesson gossiping and messing around with chemicals. But somehow, because of his excellent teaching (hard work behind the scenes, I suspect), we learned more than we thought.

“You could go up to Oxford you know,” he kept on telling me that.

When university application time came, the girl with three O levels (instead of ten) decided to try for Oxford. “Which college?” I asked Mr Haskins. “St John’s?”

“Oh my goodness me, you have to be either very rich or very clever to get into that one,” he joked, pale blue eyes twinkling. “But why not? You just have to work a little harder.”

So my dear Mr Haskins, I wish to tell you this: I got there in the end, because you told me I could. Thank you, Sir, with all my heart.

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Cover photo: St John’s College, Oxford University, my alma mater (wikipedia).

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