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 physics teacher Steve Kerr.
When asked about his role as a teacher, Steve Kerr asserts, “It’s not so much about the subject; students need to learn how to learn – that’s key.” Steve taught Grade 11, 12 and AP Physics with the odd Grade 10 science during his two decades at SMUS. His career path did not, however, start in education – but with the navy and engineering.
School always came easily to Steve as a teen. He started post-secondary at McMaster, with his sights on medicine, but he found it wasn’t a fit. So, he took a year off and joined the navy, where he attended Royal Roads Military College for engineering. He fell in love with the west coast. After his second year, instead of carrying on to the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, he opted for physics and oceanography at Royal Roads. Always hungry for more learning, Steve left the navy and attended the University of British Columbia to obtain his Bachelor’s in Education. He taught in Hamilton, Ontario for 13 years until he was offered a physics position back on the west coast, at SMUS.
Why was Steve drawn to studying physics? It was math-based, logical and had many practical applications, whereas “biology was a lot of memorizing and chemistry made no sense.” He does concede that “physics is not a subject a lot of students enjoy. … It’s a conversation killer,” he says with a laugh. “Most students are taking it as a requirement, so the trick is to make it simple, enjoyable and hands-on.”
Reflecting on his early days of teaching, Steve had expected to simply teach the curriculum but he learned quickly that you need to be flexible because “students are unpredictable.” He also discovered a love for interacting with students. “They are as curious about you as the subject,” he shares. He notes there was a big difference in motivation at SMUS compared to his previous teaching experience, with the overwhelming majority pursuing post-secondary education. He says he’s baffled when students leave beautiful Victoria, with excellent higher education options for university, only to return home after their first year. “It throws me off,” he admits – but as a father, he is thrilled that both his children, SMUS Lifers Jordan ’16 and Aidan ’18, decided to study in town.
Reflecting on his time at SMUS, Steve says he most enjoyed time with the students. He was heavily involved in 13 musicals, mainly at the McPherson Playhouse, as the technical director, working with the student stage crew. By the end of rehearsals, the young crew members would be calling the show and mastering set changes, lighting, and sound. It was a precious time, as his wife did much of the costuming. When their children were small, they would all be backstage together. Being backstage while Jordan was on stage remains one of his fondest memories. Steve’s favourite SMUS musical was Les Misérables. “It was a great cast and production. The set was great. We received a letter from the VOS [Victoria Operatic Society] director that said, ‘you could have taken that show on the road!’”
Steve deeply values the SMUS science department. Coming from a public school system and teaching at economically challenged schools, there were only two physics classes each year. Here, with three or four physics teachers, “over that time you collaborate with other teachers about how you approach physics … different experiments and topics.” Acknowledging that, at a certain point, you run out of ideas, Steve relished connecting with younger teachers and working off one another’s enthusiasm.
Soccer has always been a vital component of Steve’s personal and professional life. A national B-level certified coach and past president of the Ontario Women’s Soccer League, he has also coached soccer at provincial and school levels for 32 years. Up until his kidney transplant in 2017, he also played regularly. “It’s relatively cheap, and you can play forever.” A stalwart Arsenal FC supporter, Steve laments that soccer is not as huge in Canada as it is elsewhere around the world.
Retired in September 2020, Steve’s new hobby is repairing antique sewing machines acquired by his wife, Susan . At the time of writing, the y had nine sewing machines in their possession. Susan has gotten into sewing pants, jackets and shirts after spending years costuming for SMUS shows. In retirement, they look forward to travelling to see her family in England and his in Scotland. Apart from that, he looks forward to more learning, reading and living, with a focus and warmth in his bones.