Through shared stories of pain, Sharron Clayton feels comfort

ClaytonDoneShe still finds humor in the story. She remembers trying to stifle a sneeze, but the wig bounced forward anyway. When they asked why her hair did that, she pulled off her wig, revealing a few thin strands of hair left.

“It made me cry,” she says now. “My students told me, ‘You know, we would shave our heads for you.’ I said, ‘Don’t. Don’t do that, my hair will grow back.’ That made me feel really good.”

Back then, Sharron Clayton was losing her hair from a medication prescribed to her for an illness, causing her to have to wear a wig. Her oncologist wasn’t sure if she had leukemia or another form of cancer, but within a year of treatment, it was gone.
Clayton has been in remission for eight years, and now, after 20 years as an English teacher, she’s retiring.

She says her students helped her through these tough times, even searching for the hospital she was admitted in when she became ill.

Her childhood was rough. Growing up, she says her family struggled with money, food and other tools that most kids have now that she didn’t.

“I wasn’t like the other kids; I had patches on my clothes,” she says. “But I had a few teachers who believed in me; they motivated me.” These teachers inspired Clayton to be her best, and she takes their philosophy into her own teaching now.

Many of her students feel inclined to speak to Clayton about their problems, or even just for someone to converse with.

“There was a stronger bond (with her) than any other teacher I had this year,” says senior TJ Blair. “She actually lets you into her personal life; she’s not afraid.”

But the relationship between teacher and student isn’t a one-way street. Clayton’s openness has allowed her students to feel close enough to her that they can go to her with their own problems.

“I would go to her sometimes — just advice on what to do,” says Savhannah Lopez, senior, who shares this relationship with Clayton. They both listen to each other’s problems.

“She’s willing to talk to every single student,” Blair says. “She’ll go out her way to help them.”

In her English classes, Clayton had her kids write for a prompt asking to nominate a teacher for a “Teacher of the Year” award.

She gleams at the pile of essays she’s holding. “I never thought I’d get this many responses for me.”  She admits, for a while, she felt most students these days were insensitive, making her want to “pull her hair out.”

“With those letters there, I have to back up on that.”

Clayton says that she has “thousands” of pictures with her students over the years, and she plans on creating a collage of them with the letters she has received and put up in her house.

“It’s something to remember them by,” she smiles.

Clayton doesn’t like the idea of growing old and retiring, and thinks of it in a bad way, but she realizes she has to accept it as another part of life.

“The hardest thing is growing old as a teacher and fading away.”

Clayton wishes for all students to keep their dreams no matter what happens in life and continue to reach for the highest point in their dreams, and you’ll always be successful, she said.

She definitely takes this message to heart, as she continues to dream and strive for her goals even after retirement.

“I’ve got all kinds of plans — whether or not they materialize.”

She’s thinking of running for a political office position in Modesto, despite health issues, and wants to focus on her crafts. She also wants to write a book of her life and struggles.
“I had people approach me to write my story,” she says, but turned down all offers because “I could do it just as well.”

Mostly, though, she wants to spend time with her family, the people who experienced her hardships alongside her.

Her son, while taking care of his child, is in remission from leukemia now, ready to receive a bone marrow transplant from his brother, and her daughter is pregnant.
Clayton is excited to spend time with her children and new grandchildren, and travel across the country with them in a motorhome.

She says her students, “even the ones that drive her crazy,” are what she’ll miss the most.
“There was never a dull moment with these kids. They made me feel good when I was down … and I’m going to miss that.”

Her students, she says, are the reason why she gets up in the morning, and are her motivation to live every day with a positive attitude.

They were the ones who helped her cope when she was in the worst of times — the ones who were there when she felt she had lost everybody.

Within a period of three years, her husband, brother and one of her daughters died, and one of her sons was diagnosed with leukemia the day of his son’s birth. To add to Clayton’s dismay that day, her car broke down, so she was unable to reach her son at the hospital or her new grandchild.

She says when she was grief-stricken, her students were the ones who gave her the courage to go on.

“They fill that gap, they really do.”