By Philippa Davies
Gélinas, carpentry and construction teacher at Confederation Secondary
School in Val Caron, climbs into his black Chevrolet pick-up truck at 7:50
a.m. just after his wife and daughter pull out of the driveway on their way
to work and daycare. Gélinas grew up in "The Valley," a cluster
of mainly French villages about half an hour from Sudbury, and his parents
still live nearby. His father was a high school principal and also had a
woodworking business. His mother was mostly at home with the children.
"It is very important to me to live where I work. The kids that bag my
groceries and pump my gas are the same as those kids in my classroom."
The school is only a five-minute drive from home. By 8:05, Gélinas is in
the staff room and by 8:10, he is at his classroom door. A hand-made
wooden plaque reads Confederation Chargers, the school team name.
Confederation has 690 students this year, 286 girls and 404 boys. Most are
studying in English, but 119 are in French immersion. Traditionally, most
parents would have worked for Inco or Falconbridge, and these are still big
employers. But the mining industry is getting smaller and a lot of these
kids will end up in
construction in the Barrie area. Guidance counsellor Pablo Gil-Alfau
estimates that more than 75 per cent of the graduating class go on to higher
education. The school is known for its strong technological studies
department with five labs and five technology teachers. Many grads go on to
community colleges like Cambrian College, which is currently undergoing an
ambitious expansion of their woodworking, welding and automotive
Gélinas started teaching as
an emergency supply teacher in the local French high school at the age of
20, when he was still a student at Laurentian University. With a Letter of
Permission to teach, he was accepted into a special certificate program,
largely based on his technical background. He has been teaching at
Confederation for the last five years.
At 8:15 the bell rings. By 8:30 there are about 10 Grade 12 students in the
room. A blonde-haired girl scrapes back her stool and goes to the cupboard.
She pulls out a square rule and checks it before carrying it back to the
workbench. Gélinas stands at the board. He writes: "Joist spacing
should be 2" from centre to centre." The project is to design and
build a model deck using scraps of cedar that Gélinas got as donations from
one of the local hardware stores. The kids are working on their plans.
"OK guys. You all know what to do."
Gélinas moves among the students, who are working on their plans in pairs.
He offers encouragement and then an opportunity for learning. "Nice
job. Is it freestanding, or is it attached to the house?" he asks a
pair, looking at the plan of their deck. One of the boys, faintly bearded,
turns his face toward his teacher and raises his eyebrows. "You’re
supposed to know this before you start," chides Gélinas.
Many of these kids have been working with Gélinas since Grade 9 or 10. They
have already experienced success, and they share with Gélinas a feeling of
trust and confidence. They have made boxes, then hope chests, then perhaps
Another student calls, "Sir, I’m confused."
Gélinas moves over to take a look. "Mark out the joist location on the
"Ah yes! Voila!" the student exclaims. He’s got it.
The next period, at 9:30, is a prep period for Gélinas. He prepares
instructions for the next class in costing supplies using the Internet.
After this, it’s a half-hour of detention supervision. At 11:05, Gélinas
enters the detention room and the vice-principal hands over the attendance
sheet. There are two kids. The rest trickle in slowly. At 11:15, Nick signs
the sheet. "I shouldn’t have to stay, that’s not my right
name," says the diminutive boy with hair so fair it’s almost white.
Josh walks in a full five minutes after Nick. The others sense a potential
"Sir, sir. He has to stay late, ‘cause he came late."
"Yeah sir," chimes in another, "or we get to leave
"We don’t need to discuss this right now," says Gélinas firmly.
"Can I go now, sir. I signed the sheet?"
Silence follows this remark. After a few minutes, Gélinas announces,
"Everyone but Josh and Nick can go."
"Ah sir! Come on, sir. Let’s make a compromise, I’m sure you’re
"No, actually. I ate," says Gélinas.
Josh can’t keep quiet: "I got your class next semester, sir. I got
some pretty sweet classes next term. I got woodworking, welding."
"Well that’s good Josh, but why don’t you stay out of
At 11:30 Josh gets up to leave. "Bye, sir. See you soon."
"I hope not," replies Gélinas.
"I hope not, too!" Josh grins, throws his knapsack over one
shoulder and walks out with a spring in his step.
At 11:35, Gélinas heads over to the cafeteria. He has 10 minutes to eat.
"Bonjour, ma chère," he says to the server.
"Any soup left?"
"No," she replies with a heavy sigh. Gélinas picks out a salade
julienne in a plastic package and heads for the staff room.
The Grade 11 class at 11:55 goes off without a hitch. But this is the calm
before the storm. The storm starts at 1:15 with the beginning of the Grade
10 class. This time, Gélinas picks the kids up in the corridor. They filter
in, in dribs and drabs. A small boy in a button down orange shirt with
"Spitfire" across the back smiles smugly as he enters the room,
walks toward his friends and slams his book bag down on the table
The room is noisy. A loud drumming on some tables is a background to the
seemingly constant staccato of "Sir, sir, sir." This class of 10
boys and four girls moves next door to research on the Internet and make
some notes on safety. The class is in constant motion.
Gélinas’s smile is less open, more strained. He moves around helping the
kids. A black-haired boy with safety glasses on the back of his head is
having trouble keeping himself in one place. "Four legs on the ground,
please, Chris." The legs of the chair find the ground. As Gélinas
looks over the boy’s shoulder to check his work, the legs go up again, as
the boy leans forward. Does he even know he’s doing it? Like a bubble
under water that must rise to the surface, these kids are irrepressible. The
force of discipline pushes down, but the force of their energy continuously
moves in opposite direction.
"Over 3,000 young people are injured on the job in just one year. See
that?" asks Gélinas.
"Because they’re dumb," is the response.
"Doesn’t matter what they are, you have to write it down."
"You guys are working pretty well," says Gélinas; "so
that’s good." But when it’s time to wrap up, several of the boys
haven’t written one word in their notebooks. What a difference between
this group and the Grade 12 class.
The class heads back to the woodworking lab. While waiting for the bell to
ring, the kids are surprisingly calm. One boy with an oversized Hawaiian
shirt starts sweeping the floor. "Teacher’s pet," a
classmate’s voice calls out derisively.
The student falters. "It doesn’t work anyway," he says to no one
in particular. "Sir, this broom doesn’t work!"
The buzzer goes off. It’s 2:30. The kids shuffle noisily out of the room
and the sound swells from the halls. Gélinas’s teaching day is over. He
takes the attendance sheets for the day to the office and gets a glass of
water in the staff room.
At 2:40, the extractor fans go on in his room and Gélinas starts cutting
lengths of cedar into half-inch strips for the Grade 12 class making model
decks tomorrow morning.
Gélinas is proud of his students and of their achievements, but perhaps the
greatest testament to Gélinas’s success is not the tangible: the hope
chests, the photos and the affectionate notes from the students. It is that
silent moment in which the child demonstrates her confidence, creativity and
skills with an unconscious prowess.
Confederation Secondary School
Rainbow District School Board
Certified in 1991
Faculté d’éducation, Université d’Ottawa