Professionally SpeakingThe Magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers
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by Beatrice Schriever

 Full Article

State of the Profession 2007

by Lois Browne

 Full Article

Survey Results 

 Full Article

Do North!

by Wendy Harris

 Full Article

Does the Torch Burn Bright?

by Leanne Miller

 Full Article


Governing Ourselves


Does the Torch Burn Bright?

Is it time to update Remembrance Day? The Legion thinks not, but some teachers believe otherwise.

by Leanne Miller

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Teachers have carried John McCrae's torch of remembrance for nearly a century.

Students – sometimes interested, sometimes bored – have been herded into crowded gyms to attend services. Or they have sat with heads on desks listening to McCrae's poem. They have stood and shuffled through the Last Post and the minute of silence. What do our students think about during that minute?

The Royal Canadian Legion believes “the Canadian education system has a responsibility to enrich children's early experiences with Remembrance Day so that students may develop a real understanding and appreciation for it.”

Teachers take the responsibility, and the challenges, seriously. Anthony Naoum says, “If gathering hundreds of energetic adolescents into a large auditorium and insisting they be silent and face forward isn't challenging enough, then bringing the past to the present most definitely is.” At Étienne-Brûlé, his Grades 7–12 school in North York, they tried something new.

Naoum's history colleagues Audrey Simard and Widline André organized a ceremony last year that emphasized current global issues and contemporary questions of social justice. Instead of finding memorabilia and inviting veterans to speak, they involved students who have witnessed or been victims of war, displacement, genocide or political imprisonment. Students shared stories, performed skits, read poetry and reflected on war and conflict before everyone in the gym. Behind them hung a banner: “You can express yourself freely because you are in Canada.”

Students' reactions were mainly positive, says Simard. “Many were touched, a few cried and some thanked us for doing something different that connected with them.”

A few students were disappointed the ceremony didn't focus more on Canadian soldiers. They wanted to return to the school's traditional marking of the day.

Simard says they'll repeat the new format, not this year, but maybe next. “It was a big risk and it paid off, so from that perspective it was worth it. But it was a lot of work,” she says.

“We want to make November 11th real and connect students to events in faraway places.”

John Ruypers has been organizing Remembrance Day ceremonies for more than 20 years in the London Catholic DSB. For the past six, he has been at Mother Teresa Catholic SS, which runs two 40-minute assemblies, each with more than 650 kids.

“I've never had any behaviour problem with kids and they have always been engaged and interested,” says Ruypers, head of history and social sciences. Ruypers's ceremonies blend the traditional with the contemporary and are heavy on student involvement.

“Because it's their peers who are running the service, there's a high degree of attention and respect,” he explains. Each year the service has a theme. Past themes have included Canadian women in war, Canada and D-Day, Vimy Ridge, Christmas in the trenches, the Battle of Hong Kong, the internment of Japanese Canadians and the poetry and music of war.

Ruypers chooses Canadian history students with strong communication skills and has them present skits that he has written. The characters are usually composite sketches of young soldiers. Any poetry is written by current and past students. When the students in the audience learn that the poems were written by their peers or see fellow students acting on stage, they are always attentive. This fall, the brother of Trooper Mark Wilson, the 40th Canadian solider to be killed in Afghanistan, will speak at the assembly.

Lynn Lemieux will take a smaller-scale approach to marking Remembrance Day, confining it to her Grade 7 students at Macklin PS in Scarborough. Like last year, she will teach her students how to do choral reading and then bring in songs that promote collaboration and peace.

Lemieux selects three songs and she and her students work in groups to interweave the lyrics. They exercise what she calls “creative licence, mixing up lines to produce the most effective overall impression when presented as a choral reading.”

Once students have practised with Lemieux's songs, they form groups, choose three songs of their own and follow the same procedure. They also create collages to show the contrast between conflict and peace. Finally, the groups present the choral readings and collages. All group members explain their choice of images, since each must contribute to the collage.

Garden of Remembrance, Westminster Abbey

Paul Yanchus teaches native studies and history. Last year, he taught at Thomas Simpson SS in Fort Simpson, NWT, and Francine J. Wesley SS in the Kashechewan First Nation, a fly-in Cree reserve on the James Bay coast of Ontario. He is teaching this year at Fort Albany, a Cree reserve in the Mundo Peetabeck Education Authority on James Bay.

Yanchus has his students complete an Aboriginal Military Profile assignment and he hopes to have it culminate with Remembrance Day ceremonies this November. His motivation for the project comes from his love of history, the Canadian military and the wartime performance of Canada's First Nations. He also wishes to acknowledge his own family's strong and proud military history.

Yanchus explains that the assignment honours the aboriginal men and women who served their country. They responded quickly and in great numbers: 4,000 in World War I and 3,000 in World War II.

“Their achievements and sacrifices were both many and inspiring,” he says. “This assignment honours their valour, courage and contribution – in all the military conflicts that Canada's First Peoples responded to with bravery and commitment.”

“Students are happy to learn about aboriginal warrior Tommy Prince, and others who were decorated,” Yanchus explains. “The greatest benefit occurs during the research component, where students are surprised at how much is on the Web about First Nations warriors.”

At Eastview SS in Barrie, head of history Clint Lovell and his students organize Remembrance Day services for the school. This fall, as in previous years, they will commemorate Canada's past and present war efforts.

“The goal is to make it real for the students,” Lovell explains.

Last March, Lovell escorted history students to France, where they visited Ypres, Vimy Ridge and Normandy. Although Lovell had been there before, he felt the impact much more when sharing it with teenagers the same age as many of the soldiers. “They saw the waste of youth,” he says.

Students laid poppies at Canadian graves in Normandy and Vimy, and they will recreate that ceremony this November 11th in Eastview's gym. World War II veteran and Barrie resident Gordon Leech will speak at the service. So too will a local soldier who organized one of the ramp ceremonies for a colleague killed in Afghanistan this year.

In recent years, Lovell has also involved Holocaust survivors, a Rwandan refugee and a Muslim cleric in Remembrance Day. “We aim to bring current events and history to life for the students,” he explains. “We want to make November 11th real and connect students to events in faraway places to better engage and move them.”

Hillcrest HS in Thunder Bay has perhaps the best Remembrance Day tribute, and it's one that students see every day. The Stairway of Honour was the brainchild of Orvin Campbell, a teacher who retired in 1989.

Campbell attended the school himself and was a sea cadet during World War II. He discovered that 1,044 students from the school had taken part in the war – 962 men and 82 women. This was an incredible participation rate for a school whose numbers never topped 600 before World War II.

The Stairway of Honour greets visitors as they enter the school. Eighty-four large portraits of students killed during World War II line both sides of the 55 steps leading up to the auditorium.

Last year, a photograph of Joshua Klukie was added to the stairway. Klukie, a private with the First Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan in September 2006. Russ Johnston, the senior history teacher at Hillcrest, taught Klukie and describes him as a wonderful student, athlete and role model, as well as a natural leader.

Every year, all Grade 10 history students visit the stairway and complete a project on the portraits. Johnston explains that students come to appreciate the tremendous sacrifices their schoolmates made for their country. “They don't fully understand it. They can't unless they experience it themselves. The best we can hope for is appreciation, and our kids have that.”

Remembrance Day is not a major deal at Hillcrest. A service is typically delivered over the PA. There's usually a poem or a reading and a moment of silence. Reveille and the Last Post are played. It's pretty much like what happens in thousands of schools around the province.

But Hillcrest is different. “Veterans and their sacrifices are a big part of our school every day,” Johnston explains. “We don't need one special day to remember their tremendous deeds. We never forget.”

Second World War telegram informing next of kin of death

Web resources

For the teacher's guide put out by the Royal Canadian Legion, visit

Veterans Affairs Canada has resources for teachers at It also has a page on school projects. Enter Hillcrest High School in the search bar to see the Stairway of Honour portraits.

To view the Dominion Institute's memory project, which connects veterans with students, go to

The Canadian War Museum also has material for teachers at

The Durham West Arts Centre has information on its' annual Reading and Remembrance event.