Hingham Extraordinary Teacher: Ellen Clifford

A closer look at Plymouth River School teacher Ellen Clifford.

Who:  Ellen Clifford           

What: 5th grade teacher            

Where: Plymouth River School, for the last 30 years


Tell us a little bit about your time as a teacher in Hingham. I started teaching in 1979 at the original East School, as a sixth grade teacher, and stayed in that position until 1982. In 1983 my first child was born and I wanted to move to a part-time position. So I arranged a job share with Sue Gregory (who retired from PRS last year). Sue and I taught 5th grade together for 10 years. I taught in the morning and she taught in the afternoon. We had a very strong partnership. I’ve been full time in the same classroom for the past 20 years. So, I’ve been a teacher for 34 years, 30 of them in this very same room at Plymouth River. This year I’ve also become co-director of the Teacher Mentor Program for the teachers in Hingham.

Did you always want to be a teacher Oh, absolutely. I used to play school with stuffed animals when I was four! I always knew it was what I wanted to do. I always worked with kids in some way when I was growing up, all through high school. In college I worked towards both a degree in Special Education and in Elementary Education.

What is your favorite part of the job? The kids. Every year it’s a new, wonderful group, and it’s a new challenge to try to get each child the kind of educational experience he or she needs. Everyone is special, and everyone needs a slightly different learning experience.

What are your thoughts on homework? There needs to be just enough to help children learn to be accountable and responsible, and help them grow as students, but if it’s excessive, it precludes them from doing extra-curricular activities like dance, sports, music, art – kids need just as much time to explore all areas of life and discover the gift and talents they have. Homework should also not be overly stressful for families or home life. Definitely no homework on weekends!

Do you have any children? I have three grown daughters, aged 30, 27 and 25.

Do you have any hobbies?  Yoga – it’s a big part of my life. I like to take walks and read, and I love the beach.

What’s your favorite book?  This year for my class I chose as a readaloud the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. I loved it, and its underlying theme of tolerance, of accepting differences or flaws in others. I knew that kids would relate to it – and it’s a big message to send to my students, that we’re here to help others and respect each other. I love to share thought-provoking books with my students, ones that are great discussion starters. One of my all-time favorite books for adults is “A Woman of Substance” by Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Are you a sports fan? I’m a huge sports fan! I love all the Boston teams. I’m a huge Patriots fan and go to a lot of games, whenever I can. I follow the college teams too, and football is my favorite.

If you won the lottery, what would you do? I’d purchase a home near the ocean somewhere, big enough so that friends and family could come to visit. I’d do something charitable, too, and also share with family.

How would you describe your elementary school self? Outgoing – not shy at all. Probably chatty. I was pretty hard-working and somewhat of a perfectionist and always the helper.

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be? Well, maybe something like a teacher, but not in the classic sense. Perhaps a mentor of some kind, maybe at the college level, educating educators. Or in some sort of capacity with children in after-school settings, such as at a shelter, developing academic programs and support for children there. It definitely wouldn’t be medical!

What household chore do you like to do? Which do you try to avoid? I don’t mind ironing. I don’t do it very much, but I find it soothing, therapeutic. I absolutely would avoid grocery shopping! I am not a fan. I’ll do anything to avoid it! Luckily for me, my husband does it.

What is one (non-electronic) item that you would bring with you to a desert island? A book! (Don’t make me pick just one, though.)

One thing most people wouldn’t know about you? I like quiet time. I’m never really quiet, though! But I need it, that alone time, time to just be still.

Who is your hero? My mother. When my dad was in his fifties he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and my mom cared for him. She kept the family strong and tried hard not to place any burden on us. She worked and supported the family, and was never angry or bitter. She was just incredible.

If you could meet anyone in history, who and why? Abigail Adams. I think she was a woman ahead of her time. She was strong and offered thoughtful advice to her husband, like telling him to “remember the women,” and she was very forward-thinking.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? It wasn’t given to me directly, but it was something that my grandfather told my mom and her sisters – you can have a wedding ring on one hand and a diploma in the other. It was very unusual for women at that time to go to college, but my grandfather believed that his daughters should get degrees. He was a child of immigrants and had to leave school when he was very young to go to work. His priority was always education, and that was very rare for a man of his generation. My mom and her sisters all graduated college before they got married, and then passed on that belief in education on to the next generation. I hope I’m doing the same for my students, encouraging them to prioritize education and to always be learning, improving, growing, now and in their future.

Polly Griffin January 23, 2013 at 12:57 PM
Mrs. Clifford is the best. Both my sons had her as a teacher and I think she changed their lives. She always made each of them feel special and worthy. Thank you Mrs. Clifford.


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