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Dr Andrew Szydlo: Highgate School chemistry teacher with love for explosions and beekeeping wins top teaching award

PUBLISHED: 14:00 28 October 2020

Dr Andrew Szydlo with his silver Pearson teaching award. Picture: Diarmuid McDonald

Dr Andrew Szydlo with his silver Pearson teaching award. Picture: Diarmuid McDonald

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Dr Andrew Szydlo is known for making things go bang on stage, beekeeping, fixing cars and playing his violin at unusual moments.

Dr Andrew Szydlo is a chemistry teacher who enjoys making things go bang. Picture: Highgate SchoolDr Andrew Szydlo is a chemistry teacher who enjoys making things go bang. Picture: Highgate School

The long-serving Highgate School chemistry teacher has been far more than simply a teacher at the North Road school for well over forty years – and he’s now received a special award marking his impact on generations of pupils.

Dr Szydlo has also used his chemistry skills to boost the school’s outreach efforts, and he has taken a particular interest in speaking with children in care.

He told the Ham&High: “One of the reasons I became a teacher was I always had other interests. I like playing the violin. The car thing started when I bought my first car. I started repairing it myself because I didn’t trust other people to. Then I had the idea of getting pupils involved.

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“As for the bees, a friend of mine said: ‘Why don’t you keep bees at Highgate?’ I said I didn’t know anything about bees. But the school was supportive of the idea...”

Dr Andrew Szydlo, Highgate chemistry teacher and beekeeper. Picture: Highgate SchoolDr Andrew Szydlo, Highgate chemistry teacher and beekeeper. Picture: Highgate School

Of course, his main passion is chemistry. He trained as a chemical engineer before a chance conversation with a friend saw teaching beckon, and he moved to a role at Highgate in January 1975.

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He said he had fallen in love with the area.

Over the years lectures at the Highgate Society snowballed – and Dr Szydlo has spoken at the Royal Society and on numerous science-based TV shows.

He continues to perform around 100 demonstrations of his show “As If By Magic” in state schools each year.

As for why he’s stayed at Highgate so long, Dr Szydlo also paid tribute to colleagues, saying: “It was the relationships that was amazing. From starting in 1975, the chemistry department was together for something like 21 year. And I like to think we have always got on very well with pupils.”

Now, he’s been given a silver Pearson Teaching Award for Lifetime Achievement, and is hoping to receive a gold award at the glitzy “Teaching Oscars”.

He told this newspaper what an honour it was. “It’s absolutely amazing, remarkable,” he said. “Although as a teacher you don’t teach to win awards, I really do like children and passing on knowledge. I have always had wonderful colleagues, back from the earliest days. They have always realised I am slightly eccentric.”

Highgate headteacher Adam Pettitt paid tribute to Dr Szydlo, saying: “I couldn’t be more delighted that Andrew’s phenomenal achievements as a teacher and champion for science have been recognised in this way. His boundless enthusiasm seems to be unaffected by his very long years of service to young people and to their STEM education but he richly deserves this praise and recognition.”


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