Andrew Smith, from businessman to beloved teacher

Olivia Bystrom, Field Reporter

Photo by Natalie Williams
English teacher Andrew Smith talks with a student on Nov. 13 during FLEX time. Smith listens to what his students have to say.

“As teachers, we are what they have to grow beyond,” English teacher Andrew Smith said.

Smith is incredibly fond of that quote from Star Wars. His individual approach to education follows the same principle. Smith has only been at the high school since 2017 but has amassed a large amount of positive recognition since he transferred here nearly three years ago. His unique approach to teaching students challenges the traditional English class structure and is a huge part of what has made him a long-time favorite for many students.

However, he has not always taught English class, nor has he always been a teacher. After double majoring in theatre and communications at St. John’s University, Smith began his career in the hustle and bustle of marketing and business.

“I was working in the corporate world and marketing, and I did not care for it. I was not making any sort of difference. I was only making other people money,” Smith said.

After some self reflection upon his life, he came to realize perhaps teaching was his best fit. He wanted to do something more beneficial for the world.

“I look back at all the experiences I’ve enjoyed in work, and in life, and teaching allowed me to do those things but also to do so where I could help people, and do something that kind of lived beyond me,” Smith explained. 

“I look back at all the experiences I’ve enjoyed in work, and in life, and teaching allowed me to do those things but also to do so where I could help people, and do something that kind of lived beyond me,””

— Andrew Smith

After leaving the corporate world in pursuit of a new beginning, he eventually ended up teaching at Stillwater Middle School, formerly Stillwater Junior High. There, he taught three different classes, english, theatre and video production, as well as directed the theatre department. Along the way he has developed long lasting bonds with his current and former students; junior Zoe Mentz is one of them.

Mentz had Smith as an advisory and theatre teacher years ago in eighth grade. She said she initially did not even sign up for theatre that year, but she “ended up falling in love with it” and developed a lot of respect for Smith as an educator. Even to this day, students like Mentz and sophomore Kaspar Millfelt regularly visit Smith to catch up like old friends. 

“He’s the only teacher that I actually go back to… I’m not a freshman anymore and I actually still go back, I still talk to him. He’s the only teacher I do that to,” Millfelt explained.

The relaxed student-teacher dynamic is one of the things that set apart Smith’s class from any other. Smith prioritizes being up to date and involved in what is important to his students, and is eager to engage in daily discussions with them about all sorts of topics. It is not just about student learning from teacher, it is also about teacher learning from student.

“He was willing to have discussions with us,” Mentz said. “I think that was really important because I felt like my opinion mattered even if it wasn’t to the right people. It mattered to someone like you were more than just a student… he was interested, he wanted to know what we had to say. I think as a student that’s something that you don’t feel very often.”

Millfelt similarly expressed that Smith was involved with what matters to his students, without making them feel inferior.

“He doesn’t act above the students… I think he just tries to be as connected to them as he can, he just does a really good job at it, in my opinion,” Millfelt said.

When it comes to the real educational side of things, Smith ventures above and beyond just completing the state required curriculum. His approach, he explained, is to have his students explore beyond their assigned texts and really think about “why we see the world the way we see the world,” as well prepare them for the future. He incorporates a healthy mix of both philosophy and visuals into his curriculum, and even finds ways to bring things like coding into the mix.

“We tell stories, and even doing things like working with coding; because that has a language and that has a storytelling to it. That’s something that isn’t just for math situations, that’s a kind of communication I think coming generations will need a great deal of,” Smith said. “I want to try to get students ready, not for the same things as maybe they see their peers doing, but to get them ready for jobs that don’t exist yet, for worlds that aren’t maybe here yet, but will be.”

When Smith is not busy challenging the limits of education, he can be found rehearsing for, performing in and attending his friends theatrical productions. He has three sons, and spends a great deal of time taking them out to the movies. In his free time, he likes to read, sketch and continue to expand his sizable collection of pens.

“I’m weird, my students might say,” Smith said.

But sometimes, being weird is exactly what the world needs a little bit more of.