SMUS Teacher Feature: Mr. Mark Turner

Mark Turner

Last week we announced Mr. Mark Turner as our new Head of School. This week, we’re pleased to better introduce him to you in our weekly Teacher Feature.

Mark was born in Hampstead, England in 1961. His father was in the army and then later became a vicar in the Church of England, while his mother practiced physiotherapy. He attended Rossall School where he was big into the arts and humanities, and he was an avid athlete: field hockey, cricket and rugby.

Mark studied geography at Oxford University and, while there, was awarded an army scholarship. After graduation he served in Germany during the Cold War and in Northern Ireland amid the political unrest involving the IRA. After leaving the army he studied at Cambridge to earn his post-graduate certificate in education and was offered a teaching job at Oundle School.

In 1995, Mark assumed his first headship at Kelly College. He moved on to Abingdon School in 2002, and in 2010 was named Headmaster of Shrewsbury School.

He and his wife, Elizabeth, have been married since 1987. They have two adult sons, Alexander and Gideon. They also have a Flat-Coated Retriever, Martha, who will join them in Victoria.

Let’s get to know Mr. Turner better:

What was your favourite subject in school?
Definitely history because I found the various topics we studied fascinating. I’ve always been a believer that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it; that famous quote from George Santayana.

What was your first job?
The first opportunity to earn money was selling mackerel for pocket money every summer holiday. I did that age 8 to 14 or 15. We would spend our summer in a village on the Atlantic coast near Cornwall and every morning my brother and I would take our little boat out and go catch mackerel.

What do you do on a day off?
I like to go road cycling. Spending two or three hours on the bike helps make me feel as if I’ve done something worthwhile. And fishing is still something I love to do.

Where do you most want to travel but have never been?
British Columbia and northern Canada. Part of the lure of coming to St. Michaels University School is access to this wonderful part of the world. I’ve always wanted to see the Yukon and Northwest Territories and the wilderness of northern B.C. I love the primacy of nature. I love the idea that there are still places where nature is dominant and the cycles of the seasons still prevail. Getting to experience that is something we’re very much looking forward to.

What is one goal you want to achieve in your lifetime?
Right now most of my personal and professional goals coincide with St. Michaels University School in the middle. My main goal would be to get to know the school community as best we possibly can. And then over the next five or so years we would hope to guide the community to continued success and increased ambition.

What did you do after high school?
I did some gap year work in a prep school (what you would call Junior School). I was doing the grounds, helping with the supervision of school trips, I had to teach French vocabulary. I was generally supervising the bits of the school day the professional teachers didn’t want to do.

Why did you want to be a teacher?
There was no dramatic light-bulb moment. I was doing the course at Cambridge and was invited to become a teacher at Oundle School. I did that because it was the best of the options available at the time. It was only once I was at Oundle that I realized this was a job I loved, and decided it would be my career and life thereafter.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
I wanted to be a fisherman with a string of lobster pots.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
I was leading a school trekking expedition to Zanskar in Northern India in 1990 when one of the members became unconscious because of cerebral edema, what we call mountain sickness. He was in serious condition and I had to make the decision as to what to do. We had to climb a ridge to get the casualty down the other side. There was an hour or two that was really quite nerve-wracking, quite touch-and-go.

What was the first concert you went to?
Status Quo in Dortmund, Germany in 1986. They were doing their In the Army Now tour and they played a huge concert for 20,000 service personnel. It was quite an epic experience.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
Steering Shrewsbury School from being fairly committed to single-sex into being a much more equal and co-educational community. When I arrived at the school it was very divided as to whether it should be single-sex or co-educational. The challenge was galvanizing the school community to see this as a positive opportunity rather than co-education being forced on them. I like to think we have overcome the challenge of persuading everybody that a co-ed environment is a more natural, more equal environment. Right now we have about 800 students at the school and we wanted to get to 30% girls by 2020, but we just hit that target three years ahead of schedule.

What is one thing you can’t live without?
I’d love to say something profound but the real answer is a good glass of Australian Shiraz or a classic French Syrah.

What movie have you watched the most in your life?
It’s a toss-up between A Bugs Life or Charlotte’s Web. When our boys were growing up they loved those movies and we watched them endlessly.

What’s been your most memorable moment as a teacher or a Head?
I think the most memorable moment is when I was working at Abingdon School and the rowing eight won the Princess Elizabeth Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, which is the big national rowing regatta. Celebrating that success with parents, pupils and staff was a wonderful moment.

Have you ever won anything?
In 2009 I won the Tatler Headmaster of the Year competition, which was an honour. It was really nice to be recognized.

What was your favourite field trip in school?
When I was at Oxford University we went on a trip to South Africa. It was about 1983 so it was in the apartheid era. It was absolutely fascinating to go and travel around South Africa. We went to Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana to look at the impact of apartheid on industrial migration. Also on that field trip I met Elizabeth, who became my wife. I didn’t know her while we were students, so it’s slightly ironic that although we were both studying at Oxford it took until we were gathered for a trip to South Africa to meet her.

Do you collect anything?
I collect fishing flies. I do quite a lot of fly fishing and anyone who fishes knows that you need lots of different flies for conditions and for different types of fish. I’ve got a large collection of several hundred, if not thousands, of those. I make them, as well. Fly tying is a bit of an art. You have to collect bits of fur and feathers and then put them together in different combinations on a hook to replicate different types of natural flies.

What are you currently reading?
The Dangerous River: Adventure on the Nahanni by R.M. Patterson. This is a book I bought in Munro’s Books when I was in Victoria. The author, I discovered, was at Rossall School and went into the same regiment in the army as I did. Then he migrated to B.C. in the 1920s and lived in Victoria after that.

What’s the best part of your job?
Working with young people because there’s never a dull moment. It’s great to be able to celebrate successes with them and feel the joy of their success. It’s also great to support them through times of difficulty, which is rewarding in its own right.

What’s your favourite meal?
Self-caught lobster with salad and mayonnaise. I enjoy all seafood. That was another attraction of coming to Victoria and B.C.

What was your favourite childhood Halloween costume?
Halloween is a modern American invention. Here in the U.K. we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day on November 5, but there’s no dressing up for that. We just make a big bonfire and put an effigy of Guy Fawkes on the top of it. I’m looking forward to understanding Halloween a little bit more when I get to Victoria.

What are you most looking forward to about living in Victoria?
We’re looking forward to getting to know the SMUS community, the area and to venturing outdoors to get to know the environment.

Have you ever been on TV?
I’ve been on TV several times to talk about things related to the different schools I’ve been at. I was interviewed about the move to co-education at Shrewsbury School, as well as when I was appointed to my first headship as the youngest head in the country. I’ve also been on for various development projects at different schools.

If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Swimming underwater. This is because my running style has been described as very much like a seal. I think that’s regarded as the worst criticism you can make of anybody’s running style. But I think seals are very graceful and elegant under water, so that gives me a little bit of hope.

If you didn’t have to work what would you do?
I would want to work up a subsistence plot and try to be as self-sufficient as possible in terms of growing vegetables and having a few sheep, goats and chickens. If ever I had the time and could afford to do it, I’d like to live in a sustainable way with a minimum carbon footprint.

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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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