SMUS Teacher Feature: Mr. Zyoji Jackson

Zyoji Jackson

Not to be confused with SMUS’s other Mr. Jackson, Middle School teacher and senior houseparent Mr. Zyoji Jackson (no relation) jokingly calls himself the poor man’s Mike Jackson. (We disagree. We think they’re equally great!)

Zyoji was born in Vancouver and his family moved soon after to Cranbrook, B.C., amid a forestry and mining boom. He grew up in the small Kootenay city and in high school met his future wife, Theresa. After graduation, Zyoji followed his passion for biking by working in a bike shop and riding as much as he could. He took a solo trip to Europe, and returned to Cranbrook briefly before moving to Lethbridge (where Theresa was finishing her master’s degree). They spent one year there, got married and moved to Montreal for a year. They came to Victoria in 2003.

Zyoji and Theresa became houseparents at SMUS in 2005. Zyoji earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Victoria in 2007 and began teaching here in 2009. He also completed a master’s degree in 2015.

Zyoji and Theresa have three kids – Malia, Theo and Poppy, and are senior houseparents for the 48 students in Winslow House. This year Mr. Jackson is teaching math and science, and is involved in the leadership and outdoor education programs at the Middle School.

Let’s get to know Mr. Jackson better:

What was your favourite subject in school?
Band and biology because they resonate with who I am and what I grew up with. They are important things I grew up with: music and an appreciation for nature.

What was your first job?
I worked as a dishwasher at La Maison Flambe, a fancy (and the only) fine-dining French restaurant in Cranbrook. Eventually I did more than just dishwashing; I plated dishes, made Caesar salad, filled escargot shells and plated the chocolate mousse, and everything had to be perfect!

What do you do on a day off?
I have three kids under 8, so we’re usually doing something kid-friendly and fun like going to the beach or the park or riding bikes. I also really like tinkering. Even when I’m with my kids, we like to tinker.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
As a surfer and nature lover, Australia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Fiji and other classic surf destinations are all on that list.

What is one goal you want to achieve in your lifetime?
I want to build a house. There is a German saying that every man ought to plant a tree, raise a child, and build a house. for me, building a house ticks all the boxes: being creative, learning design, and overcoming a great challenge! It’s kind of the mountain for me – it’s there and I want to climb it.

What did you do after high school?
I thought working and travelling would help me figure out what career to pursue. I don’t regret not going to university right away. That time didn’t really help me find a career but it did help me eliminate some jobs that I found unpleasant.

Why did you want to be a teacher?
When I was a kid, our family was heavily involved in judo. And like many martial arts there’s a heavy mentorship aspect to it; older students are responsible for mentoring, guiding and being role models to younger students. That was my first brush with teaching and I found it very rewarding. And then working for the Boys & Girls Club of Victoria was great. At first it was very awkward because the kids didn’t know me, but I gained the trust of the students so they could open up and I could help by listening, by distracting them from their problems, by offering another viewpoint. It was a pretty powerful experience. And I just like being with and learning with people, adolescents in particular. They are curious, honest, brave, funny and wonderful.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
As a kid I wanted to be a firefighter. It was the combination of being part of a brotherhood, helping other people, the excitement and adventure, the physical and mental challenge of it, and getting to be part of the Santa Claus Parade.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
I went backcountry skiing last year at Ice Creek Lodge. I grew up skiing but avoided backcountry because I didn’t have the training. Here we were going out with an ACMG (Canadian Mountain Guide). It was such a great experience because in the day we were just climbing mountains repeatedly looking for lines to ski down. But it was scary at times, thinking of the potential for avalanches. My wife was pregnant at the time and I had this thought in my head that I didn’t have any business being out there.

What was the first concert you went to?
Primus at 16 in Seattle.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
When I was in Middle School, my parents divorced. As a kid you just don’t have a lot of control over that situation and that was a pretty big challenge for me. I have a great relationship with my family now but it took some time to sort through.

What is one thing you can’t live without?
Family, nature and having fun.

What movie have you watched the most in your life?
One Man’s Wilderness.

What’s been your most memorable teaching moment?
Taking kids to Camp Onondaga for the Grade 8 CAIS Leadership Camp and seeing what they do with the experience. It happens at the end of September and just seeing how they grow from that experience and become leaders throughout the year is really special.

What was your favourite field trip as a kid in school?
Fort Steele heritage town. We dressed in period clothing, churned butter and made bread We got to work on farm machinery and we panned for gold.

Do you collect anything?
I collect tools and watersports-related equipment.

What are you currently reading?
Eddie Would Go by Stuart Holmes Coleman. And a biography on Frank Lloyd Wright.

What’s the best part of your job?
The people – the students, the families and the wide community of teacher and staff. They’re all great people.

What’s your favourite meal?
I always like breakfasts. Breakfast for lunch, breakfast for dinner.

What do you love about living on Vancouver Island?
It has everything – city life, beauty, nature and it’s disconnected a bit.

What was your favourite childhood Halloween costume?
The Cookie Monster costume my mom made. It was pretty much a warm, blue, fuzzy onesie with ping pong ball eyes. I also got to eat cookies all day.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
To make humans stop destroying each other and this place.

What are you passionate about?
I’m an enthusiast. I love other enthusiasts. I like when people really geek out on whatever they love. Whether it’s espresso or vintage watches or bad literature, I just want to geek out with them and hear the details. I really get into things when I do things. It’s hard for me to do something just partway.

If you didn’t have to work, what would you do?
I would volunteer with kids. And tinker.

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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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