Marc Gélinas,
Val Caron

By Philippa Davies

Marc 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 departments.
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 treasure chests.
Another student calls, "Sir, I’m confused."
Gélinas moves over to take a look. "Mark out the joist location on the other end."
"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 injustice.
"Sir, sir. He has to stay late, ‘cause he came late."
"Yeah sir," chimes in another, "or we get to leave early."
"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 hungry too."
"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 trouble?"
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.
"Bonjour, Marc."
"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 provocatively.
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.

Marc Gélinas
Confederation Secondary School
Rainbow District School Board
Certified in 1991
Faculté d’éducation, Université d’Ottawa

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