Pierre Beaupré, 

By Mario Cossette

It is not yet eight o’clock when Pierre Beaupré arrives at school. No notice of internal supply teaching awaits him today. Class doesn’t start for another 50 minutes, but he likes being there when the school comes alive.
"There is always somebody who needs to see me, whether it’s a student looking for advice on an assignment or an extension because of the part-time job that kept them working too late the last couple of days," says Beaupré, head of the Social Science Department at École secondaire Thériault in Timmins. "Sometimes students just come to say hello, and there’s no better way to start your day."
In the hall, he meets one of his students, who is not having a good day. Lately her home situation has been deteriorating. Beaupré has known about her situation for some time and offers a sympathetic ear and comforting advice.
She’s not sure if she’ll go to his class, her mind being elsewhere. He asks about any new developments at home. Beaupré also makes sure she is physically safe and suggests that coming to his class could offer some relief from her domestic situation and something else to think about.
"Timmins is not a very big community and its population is very homogeneous. It’s a blue-collar environment in a northern region. We know our students and their families quite well," adds Beaupré. "Without getting involved personally, teachers can’t just walk away from situations such at this one. I can only offer some counselling within my limits. Where I can really help is by giving my best in the classroom."
Pierre Beaupré was born in Iroquois Falls. His father was a secondary school teacher, his mother taught elementary school. His brothers and sisters also became teachers.
The family ended up moving to Sturgeon Falls. While in high school in the late 1960s, Beaupré played a role in the strike against the English-language school board’s decision to refuse to build a school for the largely dominant French-language population. He graduated in 1971, the year the school board finally agreed to build a French-language secondary school.
He went on to study history and geography at the University of Ottawa, got married while he was a student and decided to become a teacher. In 1975, he moved to Timmins. His two daughters are now students at the University of Ottawa.
On Beaupré’s schedule, the first period of the day is marked as free. He’s in the Social Science Department room, marking papers, getting material ready for an upcoming lesson, doing some work or research for one of the many committees he sits on or chatting with a student. Next semester, there will be no "free" period on his schedule.
It’s time for Pierre Beaupré’s first class of the day — law to OAC students. The troubled student he’d met in the hall is already there, sitting at her desk and waiting for class to start.
Today it’s the Canadian constitution "because it is the fundamental legal document in Canada and everything stems from it one way or another. Everything I will teach will relate to it," says Beaupré. He was behind the change in the student council structure from a presidential structure to one that models the Canadian parliamentary system with a prime minister and ministers responsible for various functions of the student life. Thériault being a Catholic school, there is even a Minister Responsible for Pastoral Issues.
The roll call at the beginning of each lesson sets the tone, gives him the pulse of his class, the information he’ll need to continue for the next 80 minutes. It’s also the time to make announcements about upcoming events or assignments. Today the teacher needs to know who will be going to the funeral of the brother of one of their peers. "He was still a very popular kid, an excellent cross-country runner who succeeded and won a scholarship to an American college. He still has a brother and a sister here. His mother used to teach here. His death in a car accident created great sadness among Thériault’s staff and students, especially with the OACs," comments Beaupré.
"When we announced the tragic event a couple of days ago, we could not teach. Not only was I shocked, I had to veer off the program and make sure all the students’ needs for counselling were met, whether by sending them to a counsellor or by simply talking about it in class."
Students respond well to Beaupré’s teachings. His voice commands attention. He creates situations that are conducive to student participation. The exchanges between teacher and students are lively and open.
He walks up and down the aisles, stops, darts towards a map at the back of the classroom. All eyes are on him.
"There’s a lot of theatre in the act of teaching. When I’m standing in front of a group of students, I know they’re here to learn, they know I’m here to teach. Nowhere does it say that it has to be boring," says Beaupré.
His next group is a Grade 10 history class, the first of two today. Students start filing in although the bell has yet to ring. One student takes his seat right by the teacher’s desk and next to his teaching aide. He announces to Beaupré how bad his cold is today.
Another quietly approaches him with the news that she has not had the chance to finish an assignment due soon.
The students’ mood is far better than it has been in the last few days.
Beaupré’s tone is very much the same as he used with his OAC students, with some differences. "When I ask a question of my OAC students, I usually get the right answer and quite often some background, either from something they picked up in a book, a paper, television or even their own personal experience," says Beaupré. "With Grade 10 students, I have to sometimes dig a little deeper. With the new curriculum, I don’t always have the time, or the resources, to present the context that would allow them to fully understand what I’m talking about. And I’m not sure they would understand anyway. I used to teach a lot of this material to older students."
This group is younger. Discipline is somewhat stricter. There are 29 teenagers in front of him. Students are somewhat agitated. Thériault is still feeling the tremors of the events of September 11.
Beaupré says, "I always prepare my lessons well in advance. I know the curriculum inside and out, no matter how often new guidelines come from the ministry. But it becomes almost impossible to stick to the official curriculum when events like those happen.
"Students are affected by what happens in the world, they know what’s going on but too often lack the background required to explain or fully understand those events. It’s part of my job to explain, offer some perspective on current events and make links with what I’m teaching. Even if today I’m supposed to talk about the life and times of Wilfrid Laurier, Afghanistan somehow found its way into the lesson."
It’s finally the lunch break. The first Grade 10 history lesson will resume after lunch. Only 30 minutes to eat, relax and get ready for the rest of the day, catch up with some colleagues. Next thing you know, the students are back in class.
A few minutes later, Beaupré has to start all over again and show the same enthusiasm with the second group as he did with the first. He succeeds by adding new elements to his presentation on the life and times of Wilfrid Laurier. "I know my students and try to involve them all or at least make sure they’re getting something out of my lessons," says Beaupré. "I use maps depicting Canada and the world at different centuries. It helps them see what their world looked like, that it has changed and is still changing."
Keeping the attention of students in the last period of a school day can become quite a challenge. Somehow, students remain — for the most part — captivated by what Beaupré has to tell them. Going from one corner of the room to the next, from one map to another, showing them a clip from a video on Laurier and making them listen to a brief audiotape on Laurier’s life, Beaupré manages to teach them about Laurier, the Boer war, and what a compromise is while reminding them about the difference between historical fact and the embellishment of history.
It is finally 3:00 p.m. Students are on their way home. There are still papers to mark, lessons to prepare, committee work to do, students to work with in the weightlifting program.
Today, however, there is something else. All the teachers are gathering at 3:30 to go to the funeral home to support the family of the lost student. Beaupré, like many on the staff, used to teach him.

Pierre Beaupré
École Secondaire Thériault
Conseil scolaire de district catholique
des Grandes Rivieres
Social Science
Certified in 1975
Faculté d’éducation, Université d’Ottawa

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