Sculpting relationships: teacher John Smith spends his time investing in his students and building relationships amongst them


Photo by Kendell Simpson

Smith pictured speaking with one of his ceramics students. He assist many of them through design, building, and the final product.

Kendell Simpson and Hailey Durm

It isn’t a secret that students can feel alone in the high school setting. The overcrowded areas push kids out of their way to strange hallways with the harshest fluorescent lights. Many students cling to their middle school friends or cling to their binders and some may even cling to the floor. It can be especially difficult to feel alone entering the classroom. You may ask yourself, “Are any of my friends here? Is there service? Will the teacher like me? What happens if I embarrass myself?” A calming, gentle relief greets you when your art teacher is John Smith. 

Students often complain that not all teachers focus on each individual student, some teachers just teach the material and ship their kids off to the next teacher. And the same is true for students, they learn the material, move on, out of sight and out of mind. But Smith has spent over three decades of teaching, not devoted to tests and the material, but to his students.

“[I became a teacher because] I did not enjoy high school, and I thought if I can help kids like me through high school, that would be a way I could give back,” Smith said. 

One of Smith’s coworkers is also one of his former students. NHS art teacher Sarah Evans credits him as being a major influence in her life.

“I definitely have things today in my life where I owe credit to Mr. Smith. He helped me develop into the teacher I am today. As well as my own personal artistic skills, he has become a trusted friend,” Evans said. 

After 34 years of teaching, 30 of them at Noblesville, Smith recalls the person who stirred him toward the path of education. 

“I hated school, and I never considered teaching but [my wife] told me I had the qualities that would make me a good teacher, and thought I was good with kids.” Smith said.

As a student at Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis, Smith recalls the events that led him down his career path.

“[In high school] my counselor told me that I wasn’t smart, and I struggled in high school. And she said, ‘Why don’t you get yourself a factory job and I’ll give you easy classes your junior and senior year.’” Smith said. “I sold myself short, so I worked in the factory for a while so I could make enough money to pay for my own college. I learned that if you work hard, you can do anything.” 

Smith began the service organization, Leo Club, at NHS six years ago. The club creates fundraising activities and raises large sums of money for many different groups. Nicollete Watson, NHS senior and Leo Club president, describes how the club has helped her grow as a person.

“I’ve been able to take on a leadership role within the club, which has allowed me to grow as a person and develop my soft skills. I’m very grateful for all of the opportunities and experiences,” Watson said.

Watson is one of the many students who have benefited from his teaching. Smith speaks on the accomplishments that he receives in his classroom. 

“I get an accomplishment when I learn a new technique, and when I see a kid successful in something I taught them, that is gratifying,” Smith said. 

While Smith teaches ceramics in the classroom, he is also showing his passion for his students in the Leo Club.

“Mr. Smith inspires me with his dedication to our club, his passion for his job, and his genuine care for all of his students. He always puts in the extra work to make sure we have everything we need,” Watson said.

Watson is not alone in their feelings about Smith and his outlook on teaching. Evans agrees on how much Smith has inspired her. 

“He inspires me as a human being as well as a teacher. I love his outlook on life, being positive, encouraging, and confident, but still not being afraid to feel the way you feel,” Evans said. 

With retirement on the horizon, Smith describes his plan for the future. 

“I’ve already bought potter’s wheels for when I retire, so my goal is to have a place where individuals I’ve taught can come and have a place to throw [pottery],” Smith said. “So when I go, I can get together with the same kids I’ve taught for years and years, so we can throw together again.”