SMUS Teacher Feature: Ms. Jennifer Leyh

Jennifer Leyh

Ms. Jennifer Leyh has been at the Junior School for eight years but this year started in a new role. Now one of our Grade 1 teachers, she has previously worked at SMUS as a Kindergarten teacher and associate teacher.

Jennifer was born in Hope, B.C., and spent much of her childhood on the Sunshine Coast and in Prince George (her father was in the RCMP) before coming to Sooke when she was in Grade 11. She began her post-secondary studies at Camosun College before transferring to the University of Victoria to earn a BA in History. She immediately moved to Nanaimo to complete her Bachelor’s of Education.

She spent two years working at another Victoria school before joining the SMUS faculty eight years ago.

Let’s get to know Ms. Leyh better:

What was your favourite subject in school?
History because I loved that you learned through story, and I loved learning about different people and times and places. The way history is delivered through storytelling and reading, and sharing of opinions, and class discussions, I always enjoyed that format.

What was your first job?
I worked in a restaurant washing dishes at a greasy spoon restaurant when I was 16. It was quite challenging being a vegetarian having to wash big, meaty, fatty dripping plates.

What do you do on a day off?
I usually always run a 10k at Elk/Beaver Lake, and I take Spencer (my Jack Russell-poodle cross) out for an ocean walk or a ball throw at the park. I also really enjoy eating out downtown, and I love curling up with a book, a good movie or a series on Netflix.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
India because of a combination of the culture, people, ocean, big cities, culture shock and vegetarian food. I typically read historical fiction and it seems to be a theme that my favourite books are about India.

What is one goal you want to achieve in your lifetime?
I would definitely like to fill more of my passport than I have so far.

What did you do after high school?
Before going to university I moved out of my parents’ home and, still being relatively new to Vancouver Island, I took the opportunity to explore the Island and fall in love with it. I met a lot of people who loved to hike and trail run and mountain bike and camp. I felt like a tourist on the Island. I ended up working in tourism as my summer jobs through university, too – the Gray Line buses, Cycle B.C., whale watching – and I loved getting to see the Island through the eyes of a visitor.

Why did you want to be a teacher?
From the time I was very young I heard from the adults around me say that I had the right personality to be a teacher. I think they thought that because I was very organized, and I really enjoyed school, and I was a perfectionist with my work, and I loved coming home and playing school with my little sister – I was always the teacher. Then through working with kids in different jobs, like babysitting or camps, I just felt I had good relationships and a good rapport with children.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
It’s always been a teacher. My parents had a book and every year they recorded our height and weight and interests and our desired occupation and every year – Kindergarten through Grade 12 – it was ‘teacher’.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
I tried bungee jumping when I was 22 in Nanaimo. Then for a summer I thought I wanted to work there and they forced me to try all of their jumps. Doing jumps that weren’t by choice was terrifying!

What was the first concert you went to?
I saw the Dixie Chicks in Vancouver.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
I think it’s whenever people come and go from your life, whether it’s a loss through death or through moving on in different directions. It’s always challenging picking yourself up and starting over, so I have to remind myself to live in the present and find the joy in the memories.

What is one thing you can’t live without?
I absolutely need quiet time in nature. And I always need Spencer beside me. And my family is the most important thing in my life.

What movie have you watched the most in your life?
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Every Christmas since it came out my family and I have watched it. We all know the movie word for word and we quote it all year long.

What’s been your most memorable teaching moment?
Celebrating the Kindergarten students at the end-of-the-year Celebration of Learning last year – their first year of formal education. When each of them came up we read a virtue for each child and just thinking of where they were when Kindergarten started and how much has happened in their year of educational and personal growth was pretty special. Thinking about how much you’ve connected with each of those children and how you know them as individuals is one of highlights of my career so far.

Have you ever won anything?
I won a massive pink bunny rabbit for winning a colour contest when I was about 6. I remember I was such a perfectionist with my colouring, it almost looked like it was computer generated.

What was your favourite field trip as a kid in school?
In Grade 9, when we lived in Prince George, my class headed to Jasper for a couple of days to ski. I had never skied and loved getting to spend the days on the ski hill, being in the snow and being on skis for the first time.

Do you collect anything?
I’m kind of a collector of mid-century modern furniture – like teak and that era of home decor.

What are you currently reading?
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald. And in class right now we’re studying fairy tales, so we’re reading old traditional European fairy tales, modern fractured fairy tales and recently a few Chinese fairy tales.

What’s the best part of your job?
The children always make you stop and see what’s really important in life – whether it’s having a good laugh at yourself or apologizing quickly or making new friendships or taking a risk and challenging yourself. I love working with children because they remind you to let go the stuff you get hung up on – work or other stresses – and be in the moment with them.

What’s your favourite meal?
Homemade vegetarian lasagna with lots of cheese.

What do you love about living on Vancouver Island?
I love all the recreational opportunities, the ocean, the mountains, the hikes, the lakes. And I really love the cleanliness of our environment here.

What was your favourite childhood Halloween costume?
I don’t know if it was my favourite costume, but one of my favourite photos to look back on was when I was Little Red Riding Hood when I was about 8 years old. We didn’t have a lovely blonde wig to put on me, so I had on a white old lady wig and no one knew who I was. I kind of looked like a cross between Little Red Riding Hood and her grandma.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To travel back in time, but not forward. I don’t want to know the future, but I think going back in time to different times and places in history.

If you didn’t have to work, what would you do?
I would love to own a little cabin in the woods somewhere on the Gulf Islands and see what my free time inspired. And if I get a little restless in that quiet space, then I’d love to go travelling more.

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Kyle Slavin
Kyle Slavin is the school's storyteller. Through words and photos, he shares with the community all the amazing things that happen on campus.

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