10th July 2009 at 01:00
Caroline Alston 1966-2009

There are two types of teacher, Caroline Alston's colleagues say: those who exude in-your-face exuberance, and those whose impact is quieter, more understated, but no less significant. Mrs Alston, they all agree, was the latter type. In her own unassuming way, she showed pupils how much their achievements mattered.

Born in Kent, Caroline Eccles exhibited early teacherly tendencies. As a teenager, she regularly spent her spare time helping her mother, a primary teacher, with her marking. It was an early indication of her talent for paperwork and record-keeping.

She once told colleagues that the only other profession she had seriously considered was chiropody. This became a running joke: if all else failed, she could resort to feet.

Caroline studied for a BEd in history and geography at St Martin's College in Lancaster (now the University of Cumbria). As a 22-year-old graduate, she took a job at Pendle Primary, in Clitheroe, willingly moving to a sleepy Lancashire town where she knew no one. But she quickly made friends among her colleagues.

Few people recall ever seeing her without a smile; even her husband says the occasions were rare. Instead, staff members remember friendliness, compassion and a genuine interest in other people.

She joined Rotaract, the young people's branch of the Rotary Club. It was at a Rotaract bonfire-night party that she met Brian Alston. He had reversed his father's van into a lamp-post; she commiserated over a beer. Four years later, they married.

In 1992, after four years at Pendle Primary, Mrs Alston took a promotion to Longridge Primary, nearer Preston. Teaching Years 3-4, and then later Y5-6, her goal was always to bring creativity to the classroom. When teaching about the ancient Greeks, for example, she invited costumed pupils to eat tzatziki and olives. One of her personal career highlights was choreographing a medieval-themed acrobatics display for a Christmas show.

Mrs Alston made enormous personal investment in her pupils' achievement. She coached several sports teams and would jump up and down delightedly on the sidelines whenever they scored.

She also made a point of celebrating less obvious achievements. If struggling swimmers finally completed a width of the pool, for example, she would be genuinely overjoyed. Her duty, she felt, was to find a spark of something special in every child.

However, she always worried that she was not doing enough, that she was not a good enough teacher. This, along with her continued devotion to paperwork, ensured consistent conscientiousness. During a holiday in Scotland, she deliberately ignored the dramatic roadside scenery so that she could mark books and plan lessons.

This organisational zeal spilt over into other areas of her personal life. She chaired a Ladies' Circle, the sister movement to Rotaract, organising everything from wine-tasting events to theatre visits. Although a talented public speaker, she rarely sought the limelight. In her social life, as in her teaching career, she preferred to stand supportively on the sidelines and allow others to shine.

But she did not deny herself pleasure. Described by her husband as a "water baby", she went swimming at every opportunity. On one occasion, during an October holiday in Ireland, she happily dived into the North Sea while Brian tentatively dipped his toes in the waves.

Her fitness and activity hid the fact that she had developed lung cancer. The first sign of a problem was on a Friday evening in May, when she was admitted to hospital with suspected pneumonia. Ten days later she was dead, aged 43.

In characteristic style, she spent her final week taking care of paperwork. By the time she died, she had laid out plans for her funeral and made all legal and practical arrangements for the aftermath.

She is survived by her husband, Brian.

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