'Teenagers haven't changed very much' - much-loved teacher looks back at 41-year career at Ashlawn School

Liz Cheney is set to retire after teaching at Ashlawn School for more than 40 years
Teacher Liz Cheney.Teacher Liz Cheney.
Teacher Liz Cheney.

A popular maths teacher is looking back over her 41-year career as she prepares to retire in the coming months.

The Sex Pistols were in the charts and Margaret Thatcher took power in the year Liz Cheney began teaching at the all boys school which later became part of Ashlawn School.

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It was 1979 and at 22 years old, Liz was more than a little nervous about beginning to teach.

"That soon passed. I had fantastic support from the school and the people who had trained me," she said.

Liz quickly built relationships with the pupils, a style of teaching that she swears by to this day.

She said: "That's the best way to help students do what they need to do. Laughing every day is very important."

But there is never any room for slacking in Liz's classes.

"I think I am known as firm but fair," she said.

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Teenagers of the seventies lived in a very different world, with punk rock storming the charts and no social media - but Liz said teenagers have changed very little in the last four decades.

She employs the same teaching methods she did then with continuing success and insists that the view that young people's attention spans have been ruined by the internet is not true.

One big change in teaching since the seventies has been far stricter oversight.

Liz said: "Back then there was little supervision, teachers could do what they wanted.

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"Things are monitored far more closely now - and that's a good thing. Teaching is more rigorous now."

Liz has spent her entire career at Ashlawn, teaching thousands of young Rugbeians.

One effect of this is often being recognised by former pupils in the town and beyond.

"They're always really nice.

"I've been recognised in some strange places - in the sea in Cornwall and in an airport at Fuerteventura."

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Liz met her husband, history teacher Dave Cheney, at Ashlawn in 1984 and they have been married since 1985.

She has held a range of positions at the school but has never quite wanted to become head teacher.

"I always preferred being in the classroom working with pupils," she said.

64-year-old Liz's plans for retirement include taking the time to enjoy lots of walking and exercise in the days as well as helping with the junior netball league.

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She will step down as vice-principal at the end of the Christmas term but will continue to teach her Year 11 and Year 13 students until the end of the next academic year.

"It's been particularly hard for students over the lockdown and I want to see them all through their exams," she said.

Liz said she has greatly enjoyed her career at Ashlawn School and she will miss teaching.

"I've worked longer than I needed to," she said.

"Ashlawn is a huge part of my life."

Her enduring memory of teaching, and the part of her career she found most rewarding, is the 'whelps of joy' from students every year on results day.

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Siobhan Evans, principal at Ashlawn School praised Liz for her decades of hard work at the school.

She said: “41 years in any job is a huge achievement, and is a true testament to how much someone has really dedicated their life to what they do.

“In a school, however, the impact is huge. Liz will have seen over 10,000 students start at Ashlawn as young Year 7 pupils who are still exploring their talents and interests, and then leave five or seven years later with qualifications and aspirations that are starting to become a reality.

“She will be sorely missed, but her legacy will be felt at the school, and indeed across Rugby, for many years to come.

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“She has been an inspirational teacher, colleague and friend for so many, and she has been someone who the school has always been able to rely on.”

James Higham, chief executive of the Transforming Lives Educational Trust, said: “Liz has made a huge contribution to the Ashlawn community, which includes the wider trust.

“When you think about it, the change that she will have seen during her time at the school is phenomenal.

"She has, for example, seen nearly 20 Secretary of States for Education come and go since she first started at the school.

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“The last 12 months have, I would imagine, have been some of the most challenging – but they have really highlighted everything that makes Liz such an integral part of the community.

"Her commitment to getting the very best for our students, academically and from a pastoral perspective, is unwavering.

"She deserves the happiest and healthiest of retirements."