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
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
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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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.
École Secondaire Thériault
Conseil scolaire de district catholique
des Grandes Rivieres
Certified in 1975
Faculté d’éducation, Université d’Ottawa