Five Minutes of Fame with Polly Clayton

Polly Clayton is CAS Coordinator and Senior School maths teacher at Dulwich College (Singapore) and has been at the College for the past four years. Here, she shares more about growing up in Zimbabwe and Wales, her hidden aviation talents and the fascinating career path to becoming a teacher.

Where else in the world have you lived? 

Whilst I wholeheartedly claim to be Welsh, my husband would be the first to tell anyone that I was born in Swindon, although technically it was a small village just outside. After a brief spell in Oman and Wiltshire, I grew up in Zimbabwe of which my fondest memories are living a mostly barefooted lifestyle and running away from wild animals. We sadly had to return to the UK amidst all the unrest, however enjoyed schooling (and subsequent physics lessons with my now husband), and university in the South of England. I finally got to live in Wales and go back to my Welsh roots after university, and since then have lived in Bangkok and now Singapore. 

Tell us about your family. 

I am the youngest of five and love being part of a big family. I live in Singapore with my husband Stuart (teacher of history and Head of Individuals and Societies), and my 19-month-old son CJ. On our weekends I enjoy swimming with my son, walking in the rain forest, continuing my quest for the best carrot cake in Singapore and hanging out with friends. 

Did you always want to a teacher? 

No - In fact I was adamant I was never going to be a teacher and trained as an aerospace or bioengineer! Following my doctorate in bioengineering which looked at ways to improve the lifespan of hip or knee replacements, I worked in a hospital as a rehabilitation engineer designing bespoke wheelchairs and seating systems, and applying small electrical impulses to muscles in the legs of patients to help them to walk. I spent most of my free time volunteering with young people and finally took the decision to switch to teaching physics and maths. However, my favourite part of teaching has been all the community work that I have been involved in with the students. 

What is your favourite book and who is your favourite author? 

My favourite book is October Sky by Homer H. Hickam, a book that got me through the tough times of my PhD. I am not sure I have a favourite author, though we’re currently watching His Dark Materials on the BBC and it has reminded me of how much I enjoyed Philip Pullman’s books. 

Tell us about a hidden talent or a top secret that no-one would know about you. 

I’d like to say my hiccups are a hidden talent, but they are certainly not top secret. I guess very few people know that I learnt to fly an aeroplane when I was 19 or that I have played at the World Championships for ultimate frisbee. 

 Which five people would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive? 

Wow, that’s a tough one! To be honest I would love to have a dinner party with all my family as we have never all been together in one place. Famous people, it might be Nelson Mandela, David Attenborough, Michael Palin, Ellen MacArthur and Mahatma Gandhi. I think they all have such amazing and inspiring stories to tell. 

What does a typical day at the College look like for you? 

There is no typical day. I love the fact that every day is different – even in maths lessons you can never predict what the students are going to say or do, which means that no day is ever dull! I particularly love my parts of the day working with students on all the various community projects and trying to overcome hurdles to help them achieve what they want to do. Meetings vary between seeing parents, planning with colleagues or meeting external groups or charities to collaborate on community projects. I guess there’s also a lot of administration, marking and planning in a typical day. 

Do you have a motto or saying that really resonates with you? 

“Life is too short to sit still”. Whilst I have definitely slowed down with an infant in tow, I am a firm believer that we can do so much with the time we have, and it is up to us to make it happen. If you want something, go get it and if it seems too hard, there’s always a solution. At the same time, I think it is critical that we think about the impact we have on the planet and on others. The small things we do really can make a big difference to the world around us. 

I also love the motto “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. Some of the best things I have ever done have been the things that have scared me! 

Do you have a most memorable teacher moment? 

I think my proudest moment was standing on stage in front of almost 1000 students and throwing a “hammer” (a way of throwing a frisbee upside down) to the furthest back corner of the hall. Whilst it was close, I managed to perfect the throw without hitting a single student! I am not sure I could ever pull that off again!