Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2021 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Senior School science teacher Eileen Amirault.
When Eileen Amirault graduated from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, she started a career as a geologist in the field. Three years and several contracts later, she decided that “maybe something stable will be a good idea.” And with that, she decided to pursue an education degree with a BA in French at Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia. Eileen then taught science at an Acadian high school for 13 years before pursuing an MA in Didactic Science at Université Laval in Quebec. She briefly contemplated a PhD, but she was not interested in graduate work.
Equipped with substantial knowledge and teaching experience, Eileen set off on a new adventure. She packed up her car, drove across the country and settled in Victoria. She taught at local high school for a year when she saw an ad for a chemistry maternity leave at SMUS. Eileen had never given much thought to teaching in an independent school setting. But the first time she drove onto campus, she was “blown away by how beautiful and large it was. Kids were playing on the fields. I felt like I had landed on a different planet.” Once the maternity leave position was complete, Eileen was asked to stay on, to which she happily said yes.
Eileen has always felt privileged to be at SMUS and loved how polite and interested her fellow teachers were. She taught Grade 12 geology, Chemistry 11, and Grades 9 and 10 science during her 15 years at SMUS. “I didn’t know I would enjoy teaching as much as I did.” She appreciated keeping at the top of her science game for the students and offering her unique perspective as a scientist with extensive field experience.
Clubs formed a significant part of Eileen’s time at SMUS. She led the Yearbook Club for six years, and when colleague Mike Jackson stepped down from the ever-popular Reach for the Top Club (an academic quiz competition that started in 1961), she took over. “It was such a joy”. The club always played for fun, mostly, and at one point, the club met twice a week with upwards of 30 students taking part in the quizzes.
During Eileen’s time at SMUS, she noticed the departure from “teachers teach and students learn” to more lab activities. Students would discover more on their own and develop their aptitude for inquiry, she says. Socially, she mostly stayed within the science department. “All of those people are totally amazing and awe-inspiring.” Eileen loved when colleagues bounced ideas off one another and the informal collaboration. Plus, from her experience at public school, she was used to there being three science teachers across the high school grades, and SMUS had 12. “It makes you feel like you are part of something bigger. You are on a team; it is not all on your shoulders.” Eileen also relished the professional development opportunities afforded to her at SMUS. Of particular note was an experiential education conference in Santa Fe.
Eileen’s retirement plans include geocaching, reacquainting herself with the piano, taking a colour pencil art course and a genealogy course with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. She eventually wants to study forensic genealogy. “I enjoyed my years so much. SMUS was great for me. It gave my career a second wind. I would not have taught for 29 years if most had not been at SMUS.”