mssmith

Retro Rewind: Ms. Helen Smith

Ms. Smith assists student Megan Walsh Photo: Alyse Greenbaum

Ms. Smith assists sophomore Megan Walsh. Photo: Alyse Greenbaum

Ms. Helen Smith, one of Pace Academy’s most beloved faculty members, has been teaching at Pace for over 40 years. After graduating from Cornell College in Iowa with a major in history, Ms. Smith moved to Atlanta to earn her Master’s degree in history from Emory University. She found teaching and long term substituting jobs at different schools such as Westminster while attending Emory. When Ms. Smith joined the Pace faculty in 1972, she found a niche alongside colleagues and students. “I love working with my colleagues,” said Ms. Smith. “They are so smart and interested in the world, and I also love working with students who want to improve and wish to travel and learn.” She currently teaches European history to sophomores and Comparative Politics to seniors.

Ms. Smith grew up in the small town of Winterset, Iowa and attended school in a one-room schoolhouse where both her mother and aunt taught, with only 15-20 kindergarten through eighth grade students. Her love of history began in high school, with Mrs. Sightsinger, her U.S. government teacher, sparking her enthusiasm for teaching. Ms. Smith believes strongly in interacting with students, to create a classroom where they feel comfortable to absorb new information and never shy away from an opportunity to learn. When asked if her teaching style has changed over the years she said, “As society changes, teaching has to change because students change. Also, technology has changed everything.” 

Yet in spite of change, her love of teaching and connecting with students has never wavered. “I have become much more mellow and understanding,” she said. “I give much less work. I know all that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.” That may indeed be hard to believe for her many students who are no strangers to a heavy workload. Yet, Ms. Smith explained how there were more reading requirements for her students outside of the AP curriculum – an extra 2,000 pages of reading a semester – when she first started teaching.

Ms. Smith reflected on other differences between the beginning of her career and today. “The most obvious difference is the number of students in each grade, because when I started teaching, I knew every single person in the Upper School,” she said. Although a larger number of students makes it more difficult to keep track of names, it has not hindered her ability to become close with her students and Model UN members. Another difference has been the rigor and commitment to academics. “There is no more free time, it seems, for students,” she said. “They don’t have time to read or just have fun.”

Travel is invaluable in Ms. Smith’s eyes. Although she has taken many global education trips throughout her time at Pace, she said it’s hard to choose a favorite. Her trips range from Istanbul and China to Vienna and Budapest, which she has traveled to for thirty years. She encourages traveling for everyone, even more so to attend Model UN events, such as WAMUNK in Washington, D.C. 

Ms. Smith has received numerous teaching awards throughout her career, including the Walt Disney American Teacher Award in 1993, being one of 36 teachers nationwide to earn this award. She has been presented with numerous Kessler awards for Excellence in Teaching and earned Pace’s first Cum Laude Society Fellowship for Outstanding Teaching in 2003. Ms. Smith has also been named STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Recognition) Teacher five times while teaching at Pace. Last year, the yearbook staff dedicated the 2015 Pacesetter to her. “Ms. Smith has forgotten more history than I will ever know,” said Mr. Gannon.