SMUS Teacher Feature: Mr. Bob Snowden

Head of School Bob Snowden

Head of School Bob Snowden retires at the end of the school year after 22 years at SMUS.

Bob was born in Toronto and raised in Oakville and Mississauga, Ontario. His dad was a food chemist and owned a margarine company, while his mom worked at home raising Bob and his two younger siblings.

He attended boarding school, Appleby College, in high school, where he was an avid athlete (football, hockey, tennis, cricket and squash) and graduated as Head Boy. He studied English and philosophy at the University of Toronto and after graduation he spent a year working and travelling before deciding on teaching. He was hired to teach French at Appleby and while initially he didn’t plan to stick with teaching as a career, he fell in love with the job.

In 1980, Bob came to St. Michaels University School on a one-year teacher exchange program. He returned to Appleby before eventually moving to Ridley College in 1985 as Head of English. There he moved up in leadership roles to eventually becoming acting Headmaster for a year-and-a-half.

In 1994, Bob was contacted by two search consultants to consider headship roles at two schools: one in Texas and one in Victoria. He was offered both jobs but ultimately decided that SMUS would be a better fit for him.

Bob began as Head of School in the 1995-96 school year.

Bob met his wife, Joan, in 1998 on a blind date organized by two SMUS families. They have been married since 1999. Combined, they have four adult children and five grandchildren.

Let’s get to know Bob better:

What was your favourite subject in school?
English was always my favourite subject. I loved stories and reading because it engages the imagination. By its nature, the study of English is about thinking about how people behave. And in those days we did a lot of grammar and spelling, and I was good at that stuff.

What was your first job?
I worked at the Vachon Cake Factory in Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, Quebec when I was 16. I went to this little town in south Quebec City where nobody spoke English and I unpackaged cakes that had been returned from the stores and had to be turned into dog food.

What do you do on a day off?
I play golf, I read a lot, I enjoy watching sports on TV and I do yoga several times a week. If I’m up at Thetis Island I enjoy doing manual labour: chopping wood, clearing brush, cutting the grass, moving rocks.

Where do you most want to travel but have never been?
Eastern Europe – places like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary. Those countries have an old culture and they’ve been in the dark for so many decades under communist rulers. They’re all still in a serious time of transition and yet they have beautiful cities with deep histories, so I’m fascinated by them.

What is one goal you want to achieve in your lifetime?
I think the world is going to change a lot in the next 15-20 years in terms of artificial intelligence and big data, and I want to somehow be in the middle of it. It’s going to alter many things: how we live day-to-day, it’s going to change schools, it’s going to change what we even think schools should do. And I don’t want to be a spectator as it’s happening, I want to be part of it.

Why did you want to be a teacher?
Originally I didn’t. I just thought it was something I could do to make a living for a year or two while I decided what I really wanted to do. I went back and taught at the school where I had been a student, Appleby College, and at the time I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I applied to law school and about a week before I really had to commit to it, I realized that teaching was what I loved. It was the relationships with the students, the interactions with them that I found so rewarding. It’s so satisfying seeing them learn and developing a friendship, of sorts, with them.

What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
A professional hockey player.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
It sounds very geeky but some of the intense conversations I had at university stand out to me. I loved learning and I loved studying literature and philosophy. You would have these deep conversations about a book or some ideas that would get very intense. I remember them so fondly!

What was the first concert you went to?
The Moody Blues in Toronto when I was about 15.

What is one thing you can’t live without?
Books – poetry or literature like Shakespeare – and music.

What movie have you watched the most in your life?
I’m not a big movie fan but I have seen many different film versions of Hamlet. I remember watching the Sir Laurence Olivier version of Hamlet because it was the first Shakespeare play I saw as a movie and I was absolutely spellbound by it.

What’s been your most memorable teaching moment?
When I was at my last school I taught English to a great group of students in Grade 9. And when they got to Grade 12 I got this appointment here at SMUS and they wrote a poem for me based on Shelley’s Ozymandias, which I had taught them in Grade 9. They took it, reworded it and made it about our experience together. That was very meaningful and memorable and I still have a copy of it.

What was your favourite field trip as a kid in school?
Going to Stratford to see Shakespeare in high school for English.

What are you currently reading?
I’m reading three books right now: The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav (it’s on quantum physics); One Wild Bird at a Time by Bernd Heinrich; and a travel book called In Xanadu: a Quest by William Dalrymple.

What’s the best part of your job?
Working with staff, teachers and colleagues in leadership positions and working through a challenging initiative, project or goal. Then when I see us get through to the other side and everything’s happening and working out. It’s a wonderful experience to work with a team of people like I get to here.

What’s your favourite meal?
Roast duck.

What do you love about living on Vancouver Island?
I like the proximity of the outdoors and that you can very quickly be at the ocean or you can be in the mountains or you can be doing something outdoors. I feel so connected to the natural world and the human world here.

What was your favourite childhood Halloween costume?
I remember being a pirate when I was 7 or 8 and thinking that was the coolest costume.

If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Flight for the freedom of movement; not being restricted on where you go. And by fly, I mean being able to fly fast and fly far.

What are you passionate about?
My passions are evident in the life that I lead. I’m passionate about education and learning, human nature, sports, music, literature.

If you didn’t have to work what would you do?
I would travel and write about it. That process of reflecting and putting words together is very important to me.

On behalf of the SMUS community, we sincerely thank Bob and Joan for their dedicated commitment to the school and we wish them all the best in retirement.


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