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NEWS > Alumnae News > More Memories of Former Head of Biology Janet Hanssen

More Memories of Former Head of Biology Janet Hanssen

Mrs Hanssen obviously had a great impact on many pupils during her long time at LEH, lots of whom were moved to contact us.  Here we share some more of your stories.

This wonderful illustration of Mrs Hanssen, which was drawn by her granddaughter, Saskia, for the cover of the Order of Service, was provided by her son, Carl Hanssen, who was touched to read the tributes from former pupils on Holles Connect and adds: “I also had a number of very nice emails and letters from former LEH colleagues telling me how valued she had been at LEH.” 

“I was so sad to hear of the death of Mrs Hanssen,” says Alison Corley (nee Downes), Class of 1964. “She was an inspirational teacher, arriving first as Miss Precious in the early 1960s, and must have returned long after I had left in 1964. I was so lucky to have had Mrs Hanssen, Mrs Baker and Miss Lacey as excellent teachers, all of whom prepared me well for studying Zoology at Somerville College in 1965. I married a botanist and we have farmed since then, so have used my degree all my adult life, even if not formally. I will always be grateful for the inspiring classes of all three teachers, which have left me with a lifelong fascination with the natural world.”

Yasmine Chinwala, Class of 1995, says: “I was sad to read the news about Mrs Hanssen. She taught me A level biology. The class of '95 had a strong core of scientists, with a third of the class going on to study medicine, so the biology class was huge, but there was no messing around when Mrs Hanssen peered over her bifocals with a withering glance!

“While it felt like being taught by a slave-driver at the time (so many hours spent in the lab squinting down microscopes and ending the day stinking of formaldehyde!), Mrs Hanssen instilled in me a lifelong love of nature and learning about nature, which I now share with my own children. I have spent many hours poring through books and the internet with them to identify wildflowers, trees, birds, bugs, bees, butterflies and all manner of creepy crawlies - all skills learned in Mrs Hanssen's class.

“I have even told my son about her, once when we were reading Fungarium (his favourite natural history book), and another time while we found an earthworm sliced in two - memories of drawing an annotated cross-section lumbricus terrestris! I bet I could still do it! I still remember so much of the material we studied all those years ago, which is surely a testament to Mrs Hanssen's teaching and the impression she left on the many hundreds of students she taught.”

Meanwhile fellow Biology teacher and former colleague Janet Johnston wrote a moving and eloquent tribute, which was read out by Carl at her funeral. Mrs Johnston writes: “I joined the Biology Department at the beginning of the Summer Term in 1979. Janet as Head of Department interviewed me and I was delighted to get the job. I worked closely with her until she retired in 1996. We shared a work room and prep room.

“I respected her a great deal as an excellent teacher who was dedicated to getting the best out of her students. Also I respected her work ethic. She worked conscientiously at all times and I never saw her slacken. She arrived at school before 7am every day. She said it was to avoid the traffic but she was able to get her books marked and lessons planned before the rest of us got in.

“She corrected the work of every girl that she taught, every week! Huge piles of books filled the Prep room. It was very rare that any girl failed to do her Biology homework! In the Sixth Form it was a well known fact that if Mrs Hanssen had given homework or there was to be a test, no other staff could expect work to be done. Biology came first! Mrs Hanssen had very high standards and really just would not tolerate anything but someone's best work.

“Students knew that they were getting excellent tuition and that they were being coached towards achieving a very high standard. They may have moaned about their work load but they realised that it was all for the best and were very thankful later. Janet was able to achieve very good relationships with her students especially those in the Sixth Form because she was fair and she was straight. You always knew what Janet wanted and what she expected. She did not deviate or have favourites or change her standards. She was completely loyal and motivated to achieve the best possible results.

“For me to be in such an environment was very positive and I would say that in those years with Janet at the helm, the Biology Department was well respected and achieved a very high standard throughout the school. We had high numbers of pupils in our classes.

“When her Sixth Form students reached university they were at a real advantage as they had already covered a lot of the work in Janet's lessons. She taught to degree standard quite often. Also other students were amazed at how fast LEH students could take notes. They had good practice in Janet's classes. She didn't slow down her teaching for anyone.

“Janet not only ran the Biology Dept. She was also appointed Head of Science. This meant that she was responsible for the whole of the teaching of science throughout the school. She carried this out with her usual precision. Many students did the Science subjects for GCSE and there were increasing numbers at A level.

“I feel I must mention Janet's daughter, Karen. She was a student at LEH and I taught her for GCSE Biology. She was very gifted especially at Biology and she was very artistic. It was a huge shock to everyone when Karen was killed in a car crash in January 1986. Throughout it all Janet continued with all her commitments to the school. It was a way of dealing with her grief and demonstrated her strength of character.

How fortunate I was to have a colleague like Janet! She influenced many lives and helped many LEH students to achieve a great deal in their careers.”

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