SMUS Says Goodbye to Our Retiring Teachers

SMUS is saying goodbye to a number of longtime familiar faces this, year as five teachers – with more than 100 years of combined teaching experience here – retire at the end of the school year.

In the upcoming issue of School Ties, student authors Becca Thomson, Sara Owen-Flood, Amanda Allison and Delphine Ji profile all five of the SMUS retirees. Below you’ll find excerpts from all five articles – but you’ll have to wait until next month to read the full stories when the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of School Ties is released.

Click to jump to the stories on Mr. Bill Buckingham, Mr. Don PollockMs. Margaret Skinner, Ms. Min Maclean and Ms. Toshie Thumm.

Mr. Bill Buckingham

by Becca Thomson

It’s hard to believe that Mr. Bill Buckingham has been teaching science and computer studies for 27 years. He’s been an engineer, an oceanographer and even a stockbroker, but out of seemingly endless career options, he chose to spend his career teaching. “If you can believe you’ve made a difference in a child’s life, that is the ultimate reward,” he says.

And Mr. Buckingham has touched countless lives in the SMUS community. He’s been a mainstay in all areas: a teacher, a tech whiz, a coach and a compassionate colleague and friend.

Mr. Buckingham has been the Head of Computer Studies for 16 years and helped introduce to the school the first prototype of electronic reports. During that time, students who took computer science with him not only learned how to code but, more importantly, how to cope with failure. He imparted a new mindset along with technical skills. “Computer coding teaches you to think sequentially, to problem solve, to be creative, to follow directions, and to pay attention to detail,” he says.

“If you can believe you’ve made a difference in a child’s life, that is the ultimate reward.”

The rigour and character development brought about by coding are comparable to those of athletics, another passion of Mr Buckingham’s. Whatever sport you can think of, the odds are he has probably played or coached it. Particularly dear to his heart are the Japanese martial arts of kendo, iaido, aikido, and kyudo. He currently competes in outrigger canoe racing, whitewater kayaking and leads intramural climbing. He is also on a hiatus from competitive swimming, which he plans to take up again in retirement. In addition, Mr. Buckingham will train more for canoe racing, practice kyudo, cycle, hike, telemark ski, garden, take up fly fishing again, and do more woodwork and First Nations crafts in retirement.

One thing our community might not know about Mr. Buckingham is that he is an accomplished carver and crafter. He has hand-made two skin-on-frame kayaks, one in the Inuit style, and one Aleutian baidarka with a double bow. He also sews items like Inuit rabbit-fur mitts and hand-carves harpoons. Throughout his life and multitude of interests, Mr. Buckingham has proven to be an extraordinary teacher and learner.


Mr. Don Pollock

by Sara Owen-Flood

Many students remember Mr. Don Pollock for his use of the quote, “We are all the same but different,” and how he applies this to any work studied or any idea discussed in his class.

“A lot of the things that are the most special about teaching are preparing kids for life beyond the classroom,” he says. “I aim to help kids not worry so much about things and have fun with their learning. There is so much more involved with teaching than just what’s inside the classroom.”

Mr. Pollock is inspired and guided by the William Yeats quote, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” As a past student of Mr. Pollock, I will never forget his infectious and unwavering love of classical literature.

“Time goes so fast. I tell this to all my students at the start of the year. Time has gone by so quickly at SMUS because it’s been so good.”

While at SMUS, Mr. Pollock has taught English, Humanities and Communication Skills. Over the past 29 years, he has witnessed the influx of technology incorporated into the study of the Humanities and the rise of project-based learning, something he enjoys incorporating into his classroom. Just recently, his Grade 6 class completed a project entitled “City 2020,” in which they designed a city, complete with research, Cornell Notes (a note-taking method), and proper citations. He is awed by the creativity and ingenuity of his students.

“Time goes so fast,” he says. “I tell this to all my students at the start of the year. Time has gone by so quickly at SMUS because it’s been so good. In all the years I’ve been here, there hasn’t been one teacher I haven’t worked well with.” It’s the collegiality of the school that Mr. Pollock will miss the most.


Ms. Margaret Skinner

by Delphine Ji

In her earliest childhood memories, Ms. Margaret Skinner remembers sitting at a tiny desk on a farm in Yorkshire spending her free time pretending to mark math homework. “I’ve always loved math,” she says.

Fast forward several years, Ms. Skinner earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in math and music from the University of Exeter, and a Diploma in Education from the University of Leeds, both in the United Kingdom. Studying piano since the age of eight, she became an Associate of the Royal College of Music as well. Ms. Skinner then emigrated to Canada where she began teaching in Gold River. She eventually moved to Victoria to teach at Glenlyon Norfolk School and finally began to teach at SMUS in 1986.

As she completes her 30th year of teaching at SMUS, she reflects on how fast the time has gone by. “It’s been very short, time flies,” she says.

Mr. Jeff Hunt ‘91, a current math teacher at SMUS, remembers being in Ms. Skinner’s class. “I was a really unfocused, disruptive little jerk,” he says. “And she was the strict sort of kick-in-the-pants that I needed in order to focus and start doing the work. She is singly responsible for me being a math teacher.”

One of the highlights of Ms. Skinner’s many achievements was a 2007 award for Outstanding Educator in Cornell University’s Merrill Presidential Scholars Program. Since 1988, the program has honoured Cornell University’s most outstanding graduating seniors, while also recognizing the teachers who have played a significant role in ensuring their success.

Ms. Skinner leaves an extraordinary legacy, not only in the math department where she was the first teacher to teach and include calculus in its curriculum, but in the culture of SMUS as a whole. From her famous Friday Indian Lunch (where colleagues got together to share a fabulous buffet) to the Caring and Sharing program she led that sends good cheer to ailing faculty, Ms. Skinner’s focus on community at SMUS was second-to-none.


Ms. Min Maclean

by Sara Owen-Flood

Ms. Min Maclean’s passion for teaching began with a childhood game of tennis. After teaching her friend the sport, she developed an interest in education. Growing up in England, Ms. Maclean earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at Athabasca University and her Certificate of Education at Cambridge. After teaching in England for three years as a community preschool teacher, Kindergarten teacher and Assistant Principal, she immigrated to Canada as her husband was beginning a new job in Calgary.

She joined the SMUS community 2010, to teach math, humanities, communication skills, and health and career education. What she enjoyed most about her job was the children. “I really enjoy interacting with students of any age and having fun while teaching things,” she says. “It’s not a chore to come to work when you want to see the kids develop and help them along the way.” She adds her colleagues, students and the energy of the school are what she will miss the most.

“It’s not a chore to come to work when you want to see the kids develop and help them along the way.”

In her retirement, Ms. Maclean plans to spend more time in the outdoors. She plans to hike, ski, explore Vancouver Island and the Rocky Mountains, and return to her art. She is also looking forward to the arrival of her sixth grandchild.

Ms. Maclean’s contributions have been far-reaching, and her steadfast commitment to the school and to her students will be cherished for many years to come.

“I will always remember Ms. Maclean’s resolve to keep moving,” says Middle School math teacher Mr. Richard DeMerchant. “When she had surgery a few years ago and had to use a scooter, she was often seen cruising around the Middle School. Since that time she has been on hikes and even downhill skiing. She is a very determined woman.”


Ms. Toshie Thumm

by Amanda Allison

If you need to know the best place to sit on B.C. Ferries, ask Ms. Toshie Thumm. A rough calculation suggests she has taken the trip to and from Vancouver more than 2,100 times in the past 26 years commuting to and from SMUS. Based in Vancouver, Ms. Thumm is one of the longest-serving teachers on staff and the Senior School’s sole Japanese teacher. And now she’s retiring.

Since starting at SMUS in 1990, Mrs. Thumm has been a constant for both the school’s faculty and its student body. Ms. Thumm is well-known for her selflessness and hardworking attitude.

Besides teaching Japanese from Grade 9 to the AP level, Ms. Thumm is also a homeroom teacher and teacher-sponsor of the school’s Knitting Club. Her creativity manifests in many different hobbies. Aside from knitting and sewing, Ms. Thumm is talented in many other areas of the arts, and also loves to read and swim in her spare time. She has a particular passion for painting and sculpting.

“The students here are so good and my colleagues are like family.”

What truly highlights Ms. Thumm’s uniqueness is the long-lasting impression she leaves on her students. She makes deep and personal connections, and receives many emails from former students containing important life updates – and often wedding and baby photos.

“The commendable staff and students are what I appreciate about SMUS most,” she says. “The students here are so good and my colleagues are like family. They are outstanding, wonderful teachers who always think of the students first.”

The students and teachers have mutual feelings towards Ms. Thumm. On June 6, one of Mrs. Thumm’s students, Derry Li, planned a surprise farewell party for her. Mrs. Thumm was in tears when she walked into the room, as were several of the students when they saw her crying.

After the farewell party I asked Mrs. Thumm how she felt, and she told me she was very happy, and would never forget everyone’s smiling faces. The moment was very bittersweet, however, as she explained how she had been attempting to avoid reminders of her inevitable retirement, and this was a pretty big one.

Read the full version of this story in the Summer/Fall edition of School Ties, set to be published next month.

(photo by Kent Leahy-Trill)


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