My parents were really good teachers. My mother worked for the school board in Philadelphia, so home was a learning environment. My dad had been in the Air Force and in a way our house was like a military household and very disciplined. I'm one of four children – I have two sisters and a brother – and we had to roll our underwear up in the drawers along with our socks and put them in neat little lines. There were hospital corners on the beds. But you know, learning that kind of discipline was good in lots of ways and that carried over into school. My parents always emphasised that doing your best at school was important.
I went to Overbrook High in Philadelphia and my favourite teacher was Miss Brenda Brown. I was 14 and she was my home room teacher, which I guess is like a form tutor in the UK – the teacher you can go to for advice about what was going on.
Miss Brown was gentle and caring and would talk as long as you wanted to, but she was also firm and decisive. That was a good combination and you always knew where the boundaries were. She was one of the first teachers I had who made me feel bad for disappointing her.
I guess I was a good student and I think Miss Brown took me for some subjects as well as being my home room teacher, but to be honest I can't remember what subjects she taught me. It's more the overall impression she gave me and the advice she handed out. You know, sensible things, like don't lose sight of your goals, encouragement, like "you can do this, you know you can". I knew she was there for me if I needed her. She would stay as late as you needed to, or you could even go to her house. She lived near to the school and if you wanted to check on something or ask her a question, you could go and knock on her door and she would invite you in.
That's pretty cool and not every teacher gives that kind of commitment to their kids. Miss Brown did.
I live in California but go back to Philadelphia a lot and have been to Overbrook many times. Miss Brown is still there and she's always the first person I go to see when I get there. People are very proud that I'm from that school and from my home town so it's always nice to go back. I'm proud of that school too. And I'm grateful to Miss Brown because she was a great teacher.
This was first published in Tes magazine in January, 2007.
Born: Philadelphia, 1968
Education: Our Lady of Lourdes, Overbrook High School, both Philadelphia
Career: Will Smith, the Oscar nominated actor, is famous for appearances in Independence Day, Men in Black and The Pursuit of Happiness.