SMUS Teacher Feature: Ms. Susan MacDonald

Susan MacDonald

Ms. Susan MacDonald has called Vancouver Island home for much of her life, but she’s never strayed far from her Nova Scotian roots. Born and raised in Inverness, Nova Scotia, she first left her small, coal-mining hometown when she headed off to university – St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. She completed her undergraduate degree in honours English before moving to the west coast to earn her master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Victoria. She worked for a few years at UVic, as a houseparent at another independent school in Victoria and as a volleyball coach before deciding that she wanted to pursue teaching. She headed back to Nova Scotia to complete the teaching program at Dalhousie University, then once again returned to Victoria. She worked in a few non-teaching jobs in Victoria before coming to SMUS in 1998. She left in 2004 to teach English in Guatemala and El Salvador for a year before returning to Inverness to teach social studies at her high school. But the west coast called again, so she returned to Victoria (and SMUS) in 2006.

This year, Ms. MacDonald is teaching English and English Literature, and is involved with the Intercultural Council and the school’s personalized learning team.

Let’s get to know Ms. MacDonald better:

What was your favourite subject in school?
English, but Biology is a close second. I loved English because I was always reading and writing. I loved so much about Biology, too – I loved dissections, I loved anatomy, I loved brain science, I loved cell biology.

What was your first job?
When I was 16 or 17 I worked on a Youth for Drug Awareness team. We were a bunch of young people providing education around alcohol and drug use.

What do you do on a day off?
Sleep in, read, exercise (either go for a walk or go to the gym), paint and I like dinners with friends.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
South America. I would like to continue to develop my Spanish, and there are so many beautiful places in South America that I have yet to visit, like Argentina, Chile and Peru. Their natural surroundings are so beautiful and they seem like good places to go on a hike.

What is one goal you want to achieve in your lifetime?
I’m not much of a goal-setter right now because I’m really content with where I am. I look at the life I have and I feel so lucky  – I have a house, I have good neighbours who are friends, I live in a beautiful part of the world, I have freedom to travel when I choose, I have freedom to learn, I work in a great institution which provides opportunities to do things I love with good colleagues, and I’m very connected with my family. I’m really happy right now, but I’m sure I’ll come around to setting big goals again.

What did you do after high school?
I was working (cleaning cabins) and playing a lot of beach volleyball. But Nova Scotia is famous for its ceilidhs, which are parties. Every community has summer gatherings so my friends and I spent a lot of the summer, every weekend, piling into the car to go to these great ceilidhs.

Why did you want to be a teacher?
I didn’t think I would be one; both my parents were teachers and they always told me I would be. I considered other jobs, and when I came out of my master’s degree I was interested in possibly doing social work. But I realized, through working as a tutor, working as a houseparent, doing recreation programming, and working at UVic, that what I really enjoyed was working with teenagers.

Susan MacDonald Newcastle Island
Newcastle Island painting by Susan MacDonald

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
An artist. I grew up always reading, writing, drawing, painting, doing crafts. Those were my favourite things to do. I still do a lot of art. Right now my paintings are hanging at Hillside Coffee and at Moka House. I’m involved with the Zebra Art Collective. We meet every Wednesday night and paint.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
Working with outdoor leadership here at the school. I don’t like heights very much, but doing things like pushing kayaks off a dock and diving in the water or skiing down some of the slopes, I don’t want to act scared in front of the kids.

What was the first concert you went to?
I saw Haywire, a band from P.E.I., when I was about 18.

What is one thing you can’t live without?
People and building good relationships.

Which movie have you watched the most in your life?
Probably the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet – we’ve watched that a lot in class. But outside of class, I’ve watched Zoolander a few times.

What’s been your most memorable teaching moment?
It’s impossible to pick one moment, but the thing that stays with me is the energy of a certain classes; when the students and I have a good time, have lots of discussions and have lots of fun.

Have you ever won anything?
I won the Governor General’s Award at St. Xavier University for the highest grade point average in the arts program, I got a UVic fellowship, and at Dalhouse I got an award for being the best overall student teacher in the education program.

What was your favourite field trip as a kid in school?
Visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg on the east coast of Cape Breton Island when I was in Grade 6. It’s a great historic site and they have people playing roles throughout the fortress, and they speak French and treat you like an enemy or a stranger. And the fortress itself was really cool.

What are you currently reading?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

What’s the best part of your job?
The students and colleagues. But closely intertwined with that is the opportunity to talk with them about things that matter to me: art, culture, politics, philosophy. And getting to joke around with them, too.

What’s your favourite meal?
Seafood – prawns, lobster and mussels.

What do you love about living on Vancouver Island?
The clean air and the beauty. In Victoria, I love that we have all the amenities close by, but you can also go on really great day hikes or you can easily travel further afield to places like Tofino. Vancouver Island is truly one of the most beautiful places.

Have you ever been on TV?
I was on TV in El Salvador. I had been at a cafe/bar for a Batucada concert and the music just kind of flowed out onto the street. So we all started walking out into the streets marching to this great metal drum music, stopping traffic and people were following us. Someone filmed it and it made the news!

What was your favourite childhood Halloween costume?
I loved Halloween. In Grade 12 a good friend and I wanted to pretend we that we were guys. We wore rubber masks and work boots and big baggy clothes, and it was so eye-opening how differently we were perceived – people were really apprehensive of us because they didn’t know who we were.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To be able to fly.

If you didn’t have to work, what would you do?
A combination of exercising, reading, doing art, travelling, meeting new people, cooking and volunteering in some way.

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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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