SMUS Teacher Feature: Mr. Andrew Murgatroyd

We are excited to welcome Mr. Andrew Murgatroyd back to SMUS. He’s an alumnus, a former houseparent and he’s lent his expertise to our experiential and outdoor education programs. He now joins the SMUS faculty as a math teacher.

Andrew was born on the Lower Mainland and came to Victoria (and SMUS) when he was 10. After graduating from SMUS in 2002 he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology at the University of Victoria followed by a teaching diploma. It was at UVic while on a marine biology trip to Bamfield that he met his wife, Asta. He spent the past decade as a teacher at various land and sea-based schools. While he’s taught in classroom settings in Victoria, Beijing and Shanghai, he has also taught aboard different ship-based schools like Class Afloat, Sailing Educational Adventures and Broadreach Global Educational Adventures. He is currently studying nautical training at Camosun College to earn his ship captain’s licence.

This year Andrew is teaching Math 9 and Pre-Calculus 11.

Let’s get to know Andrew better:

Why did you want to be a teacher?
I had some great teachers when I was a student at SMUS. They really inspired me and made me recognize the impact that teachers can have on large groups of people. I originally planned on being a research biologist but I realized it would have a very narrow field of influence. I wanted to be able to share my passion for biology, especially conservation issues, with as many people as I could.

What was the best class you took in school?
I took a two-month marine biology course at Bamfield in my fourth year. It changed the way I thought about education because it was experiential learning. I had been studying the effects of bears transporting marine-derived nutrients into the forest by means of salmon – bears catch salmon in the river and eat them in the forest. In turn the forest gets fertilized by the salmon carcasses. I had read papers about it, but in this course we were working in the pouring rain at the bottom of a waterfall and we could see how huge trees grew down below the falls because of the salmon fertilizer. Above the waterfall, where the salmon couldn’t reach, it looked like a different forest. In that instant I developed my teaching and learning philosophy since it all made sense once I could see it, feel it, smell it. (It smelled terrible, by the way.)

What’s been the most interesting (or memorable) job you’ve held?
I was the shipboard director at Class Afloat, which is a Canadian high school of 50 people that takes place on a 70-metre-long tall ship that spends nine months sailing around the Atlantic to 17 different ports on four continents. In the two years I was with Class Afloat we did seven Atlantic crossings, four equator crossings and we sailed to some of the most remote inhabited places in the world – Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island, Saint Helena. It was an audacious undertaking and a giant social experiment. You really learn a lot about yourself and how to deal with other people when you spend months together on the open ocean. I learned a lot about diverse cultures, people and their values all through the lens of experiential education.

How do you spend a day off?
Hiking, sailing, kayaking, cooking and making music.

Where do you most want to travel but have never been?
The Great Bear Rainforest of BC. I think it’s Canada’s hidden gem. It has greater biodiversity than the Amazon and charismatic megafauna like wolves, whales and of course bears! Not only is it right in our own backyard and relatively unknown, it’s under threat from tanker traffic. I want to see it first hand and help make sure it doesn’t disappear.

Who did you look up to as a kid?
Modern-day explorers like Robin Lee Graham and Thor Heyerdahl. These were guys who just went out on the ocean as adventurers looking for what’s left to discover. Graham was 16 years old when he set out on his solo circumnavigation of the planet, and Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific on the balsa-wood raft Kon-Tiki. My parents are adventurers and sailors as well, and family slideshows of their blue water sailing made a deep impression on me.

If you could trade lives with one person for one day who would it be?
Wing-suit pilot Jeb Corliss, or “The Jetman” Yves Rossy. Jumping off the Swiss Alps or flying through the Grand Canyon would be unforgettable! It’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master but I’d be happy with just one day.

What one accomplishment are you most proud of?
Having a successful year as Shipboard Director at Class Afloat was a huge accomplishment. It is one of the most complex schools in the world and not only did we do it in style, most importantly everybody came home safe and sound. I could never have done it without the love and support of my wife Asta who taught marine biology on board.

What’s been your most memorable teaching moment?
I was the teacher sponsor for the Youth Combating Intolerance Club at Claremont and I had an especially challenging student who joined the club. I was surprised and excited when he joined because he was a student who I had heard use disrespectful and offensive language at school. Over the course of the school year I saw that the work we had done had a profound impact on him. He was checking his language and he was being more respectful.

What’s the best concert you’ve been to?
Bonobo at Rifflandia this year.

What’s the best purchase you’ve ever made?
Earning my PADI Advanced Open Water scuba diving certification in Thailand.

What’s the most memorable gift you’ve received?
The love and support of my family.

What’s something you enjoy but (up until today) have been too embarrassed to share with the SMUS community?
Pugs in Star Wars Halloween costumes.

When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
Sailing through South Atlantic gale force winds in a tall ship. I was teaching chemistry that day and I was literally hanging off the wall because we were on a 45-degree angle.

What was your dream job growing up?
To sail around the world as my profession or to be a rock star.

If a teacher talent show was happening at SMUS today, what would be your talent?
I would bring my didgeridoo and my loop station and throw down some funky beat box and weird space music.

What’s the best part of your job?
The standard of excellence and support within the SMUS community. Both students and teachers have so much support here. If I have an idea that I think would benefit students there are people excited and willing to help me make it happen.

What are you currently reading?
Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest by Ian McAllister.

Where is your favourite place on Vancouver Island?
I’m not giving up my secret spots!

If you could time travel, when would be the first place you go?
I would love to see British Columbia at the time of explorers like Cook and Vancouver; to see Vancouver Island, covered in old-growth forests, oceans and rivers teeming with life, and learn how people lived then.

If you could teach a subject or class that you don’t currently teach, what would it be?
I’d like to teach a holistic marine biology/sailing course that combines marine biology with the nautical sciences: physics, math, chart work, navigation, First Nations culture, history, literature.

What hobby would you pursue if money and time were no object?
I would do more painting and dedicate more time to writing and recording music.

What are you passionate about that not a lot of people know about you?
Preserving British Columbia’s natural places because they’re at risk and the consequences are more dire than people recognize. That, and foraging.

What one piece of advice would you give this year’s graduating class?
Listen to Alan Watts’ talks, especially What If Money Was No Object:


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