SMUS Teacher Feature: Mr. Mike Jackson

Mike Jackson

Mr. Mike Jackson is one the longest-serving teachers at St. Michaels University School, now in his 31st year at the school.

He was born in Tunbridge Wells, England and, as the son of a British diplomat, was raised all over the world – Vietnam, Brussels, Vienna, Dusseldorf, Washington DC. Mike attended boarding schools in Britain for most of his education and graduated from Winchester College before heading to Cambridge University to study natural sciences. He then travelled to the Galapagos Islands for the first time and worked as a naturalist. It was there that he met his future wife (and SMUS science lab assistant), Monica, while she was a tourist on one of his guides. Mike moved to Calgary (where Monica was living) to complete his master’s degree, followed by education training. He got a job at SMUS right out of university in 1986 teaching sciences.

Over the last 31 years, Mike has taught all of the sciences at the Senior School level, plus he spent one year teaching at the Middle School, and was the Head of Science for 25 years. He has also taught computer courses and has been involved in the school’s outdoor education program. He is currently the teacher sponsor for the Reach for the Top trivia team.

He and Monica were also senior houseparents in Barnacle House for eight years. They have been married for 33 years and they have two daughters, Jenny and Claire, who both graduated from SMUS.

Outside of work, Mike is an avid kayaker (president of the South Island Sea Kayaking Association) and he remains heavily involved in science and conservation work in the Galapagos Islands.

Let’s get to know Mr. Jackson better:

What was your favourite subject in school?
Chemistry and physics. I was good at them, and I was intrigued by both subjects because science is all about figuring out puzzles and how stuff works.

What was your first job?
When I was 19 I worked as a gardener at Penshurst Place, which is an old manor, kind of like a Downton Abbey estate. Interestingly, that gave me a lot of opportunity to learn botany and plants.

What do you do on a day off?
I usually go kayaking. I also enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and taking pictures.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
At the moment it’s Antarctica or Australia and New Zealand. Antarctica is on my list because it’s famous for its wildlife. Australia and New Zealand because, again, the fascinatingly different wildlife and I’m always interested by the natural features that countries offer – the geology of places like Ayers Rock and all the marsupials.

What is one goal you want to achieve in your lifetime?
I want to re-publish my book, Galapagos: A Natural History, which is part of the reason I’m taking most of next year off. I originally published it in 1986, the second edition was done in the mid-’90s so it’s long overdue for a third. The book is a guide to the geology, the botany, the zoology and the natural history of the Galapagos Islands. It’s the most amazing place in the world for a naturalist. It’s very rich and yet it’s simple enough that it’s easy to understand evolution and geological change. It’s so easy to see there how the pieces of the biological puzzle fit together.

What did you do after high school?
I had to wait nine months before university because of the way Cambridge had scheduled the school year, so I went and worked in a bank in Germany where my dad was posted. That was the job that showed me I did not want a desk job; I wanted a job where I was moving about and doing different stuff all the time.

Why did you want to be a teacher?
When I was guiding a bunch of people told me I should be teaching! That was when I realized I was passionate about sharing what I know, and I guess I figured out I have knack for it.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
At 10, I don’t think I had any inkling. But in my teens I remember thinking I might want to join the navy. I read a whole bunch of Hornblower and Alexander Kent. I was 15 or 16 when I applied to the navy and it seemed like a pretty good gig. But I quickly realized it wasn’t a good gig for me if I had to be in the military afterwards.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
One time I was kayaking with Pete McLeod and George Floyd, and we were crossing from Nootka Island and the weather picked up and had to cross some pretty big water; like six foot seas. It was a little bit scary, but fun.

What was the first concert you went to?
It was either Jethro Tull in Germany or Bob Dylan at Blackbushe Aerodrome with 200,000 for a Woodstock-type concert.

What is one thing you can’t live without?
My family.

What movie have you watched the most in your life?
The Princess Bride.

What’s been your most memorable teaching moment?
I love getting letters back from kids telling you how much you helped them – that’s always a pretty special moment.

Have you ever won anything?
Last Christmas I won a kayaking dry suit, worth about $1,000. And in the late 90s, I won a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

What was your favourite field trip as a kid in school?
I don’t know if they were field trips but we had cadet corps camps. We would go to the Lake District or Wales or Scotland and go hiking, orienteering, navigating, mountain climbing. That was a lot of fun and I think it helped foster my love for the outdoors.

Do you collect anything?
I collect kayaks and kayaking things.

What are you currently reading?
The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell. It’s the 10th book in The Saxon Stories series.

What’s the best part of your job?
Interacting with the kids. And I love teaching the sciences because I like how they all connect in a subject like geology or environmental sciences. With these sciences, you need to have, ideally, an understanding of the physics, chemistry and biology to see how it all fits together.

What’s your favourite meal?
A good Thai or Indian curry.

What do you love about living on Vancouver Island?
The fact that it’s surrounded by water, and I just feel so amazingly lucky that I can get out there year-round. I live in Cadboro Bay and can go out to Chatham and Discovery islands quite easily and they feel so far removed from town. And being on the water is such an amazing way to see wildlife and marine life. You see sea lions, seals, herons, wolves – I’ve basically seen everything from planktonic organisms up to the great whales.

Have you ever been on TV?
I was in a documentary called Sharks of the Golden Triangle. It was a Discovery Channel/CBC production about sharks in the Galapagos Islands and I was interviewed as a Galapagos expert.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I’d like to be able to see the future to know how much we should worry.

If you didn’t have to work, what would you do?
I would probably do naturalist work somewhere; as a guide or leader doing tours somewhere.

What are you passionate about?
People probably already know that I’m a geek; I’m fascinated with technology and I have always enjoyed exploring how technology can be leveraged for teaching and learning. I love technological gizmos.

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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.

1 COMMENT

  1. Yes, that was a white knuckle crossing, Mr. Jackson. The swells were so deep that we’d disappear into the troughs and then pop up on the peaks. Good times, Mike.

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