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Column: Like losing two libraries - Part 2
Tom Poland.jpg
Tom Poland

(This is the second part of a special column by Tom Poland. The first part appeared in Tuesday’s edition.)

Dr. Smith -- A teacher always

Dr. Clyde Smith was born in Bennettsville. His family was living just across the state line in the Fletcher community of North Carolina at the time. He has South Carolina roots. “I spent a lot of time in Kershaw County, a lot of time in the Columbia area, and went to high school in Moncks Corner.”

Growing up, he always had some facility and interest in mathematics. “I grew up in a family of teachers. Once I got over wanting to be a cowboy and started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, teaching appealed to me.”

Gifted teachers often redirect some to the path they should follow. Dr. Smith intended to teach math at the college or university level, but during undergraduate school, a physics teacher crossed his path. “A very inspirational teacher, Dr. Robert L. Carroll, introduced me to physics in a way that clicked. He said, ‘Physics is where mathematics meets the real world,’ and that is a good definition. I immediately amended my career goals to becoming a physics teacher.”

Dr. Smith adds a fun little fact. “I have never had any full-time job in my life except as a teacher. In undergraduate school, I was a lab instructor. I started teaching undergraduate physics labs in the fall of 1966 and then all through graduate school I was a teaching assistant. Out of graduate school, I have been a physics teacher ever since.” Thanks to teaching at the SCGSSM, he’s called Hartsville home for 30 years, and he’s well known. “People who have been around me know that I love playing chess, I love silly jokes, I love my life, I love to teach. I love, specifically, math and physics. I love music although so little comes out when I open my mouth. I love the Lord Jesus. I love talking with people, but the people who have been around me already know that.”

He still has that love for history. He attended Dr. (Carlanna) Hendrick’s class (at Francis Marion University) almost every day for a year. “She was marvelous,” said Dr. Smith. “When I announced my retirement, our vice president for academics asked if I would continue to come back and work with the chess club and continue to teach the chess interim course every year.” Dr. Smith said he would. “The cafeteria director has already told me she will buy me lunch whenever I come to play chess with the kids at lunch.” He points. “See those magnetic chess sets? They go to lunch with me most days.”

Something simple

Except for the chess advice, his teaching career is about to end. Dr. Smith is looking forward to something simple. “Being able to sleep without 8 o’clock classes for at least a week.” Like Dr. Hendrick, he, too, has a stack of books to read. “I’m looking forward to having more time with my wife; looking forward to having more time to help people in the community and minister to them as the opportunity arises.”

Like Dr. Hendrick, Dr. Smith has seen a lot of technology-driven change. “Certainly, technology is a two-edge sword that points up the difference between knowledge and wisdom.” Dr. Smith cites the story about having the wisdom not to eat the leaves of the tomato but to eat the fruit. A member of the nightshade family, tomato plant leaves are toxic, not so the tomato. “I imagine if you ask any teacher in this institution who has had a long tenure or any institution it would be that technology has invaded our lives in so many ways now and in some ways it has made it worse, I think, for me.” He adds, however, “I can’t imagine going back to where I did all my calculations on a slide rule.”

Dr. Smith has also seen students change. “It is always rewarding to see students who have never been challenged and respond positively to the challenge. We are delighted to say that most do. Our attrition rate is not as high as you might expect given the shift in rigor they face when they come here. And I would say, as often as not, the attrition is attributed not to the fact that they cannot do the work, but that they simply choose not to.”

Patience. That’s what Dr. Smith learned from teaching. “To tell a group something and then have three come up and ask you a question you just answered requires patience. Having their bodies in the room is different than having their minds with their bodies.” A sure sign of success, however, is when a student follows you into your profession. Dr. Smith has had students enter the world of physics, and one former student participated in the project that photographed a black hole. “It was an international cooperation and he was part of the United States team from MIT. The Haystack Observatory is his professional home now.”

When Dr. Smith was teaching him, this young man was also a member of the school’s first state chess championship team and the individual state scholastic champion. Dr. Smith has long coached the school’s chess team. “We have won 14 State Championships but ’93 was the first.”

Dr. Smith, having spent a lifetime in the classroom, knows just how important education is to a society and he has a quote that nails it. “Any generation that doesn’t put good people into teaching is like settlers eating seed corn to get through the winter.”

Had the timing been different, he, too, may have taught history. “I did have an inspirational history teacher after I was well into the physics major and I have often said that if I had had that man as a teacher before I had Dr. Carroll, I might have wound up a history teacher because I love history.” That man was Dr. Paul Risinger.

We don’t forget the teachers who change our life. In the years to come, some students will look back on their time at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math and they’ll remember the names Hendrick and Smith. As for Hendrick and Smith, they agree that their years at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math enriched their lives, and you can be sure they enriched others as well.