Hackney teacher Helen Ham: ‘My 32 years at William Patten’

Teacher Helen Ham is retiring after 32 years at William Patten School, Stoke Newington

Teacher Helen Ham is retiring after 32 years at William Patten School, Stoke Newington - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Helen Ham only planned to stay at William Patten Primary School for one year when she came on board as a supply teacher in 1984.

Teacher Helen Ham is retiring after 32 years at William Patten School, Stoke Newington

Teacher Helen Ham is retiring after 32 years at William Patten School, Stoke Newington - Credit: Nigel Sutton

But last week she retired aged 60 after more than three decades of teaching there – and not once during that time did she contemplate leaving.

“I thought ‘I’m so happy here’. I’ve just loved teaching and loved the classes I’ve had,” Helen told the Gazette after her final lesson.

“I’ve loved the mix of all sorts of children and the multicultural atmosphere – that’s what really fired me up and kept me going. I was given lots of opportunities and I’ve met some fantastic people.”

Teachers and pupils bade an emotional farewell to Helen last week.


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In recognition of her work as literacy co-ordinator at the school, staff dressed up as children’s books characters for a special assembly, and the school choirs sang well-known songs to Helen with adapted lyrics.

A video was played of staff and children sharing their memories of Helen, who has taught nearly 1,000 children – before the school tucked into a special lunch menu she chose.

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The biggest change Helen has seen since the ’80s is the introduction of the National Curriculum.

“Before, you had free reign and you could teach what you wanted,” she said. “Teaching has become more formalised. It hasn’t been a bad thing.

“What William Patten does so well is we push the academic success and the creative too – it’s always been a creative school.”

Helen’s family is well-populated by teachers – her husband is head of Holmleigh in Stoke Newington, her sister and brother-in-law teach in Devon, and next term her 23-year-old daughter will start teacher training at Kingsmead in Homerton.

“I’m finishing and she’s just starting,” she said. “I think we did inspire her, because we have had such a positive experience.”

Her plans for retirement include doing more exercise, travelling and catching up with old friends – but pupils and teachers at the school hope she will find time to pop in and say hello.

“I’m really going to miss the children. I just love being around kids and they come up with the funniest things,” she said.

“I’ve absolutely loved it.”

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