Second language teachers
He’s no stranger to official languages. During the school year, he teaches French as a second language at Souris Regional School in Prince Edward Island, and in the summer, he teaches English as a second language at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown.
Stephen Ferguson is an experienced teacher who began his career in Chicoutimi, Quebec, in 1986 while learning the basics of French himself. Passionate about teaching English as a second language, he enrolled in the Teaching English as a Second Language program at Concordia University.
For Ferguson, teaching is not just about the language: “
What I liked most about ESL teaching was that I was teaching not only the mechanics of the language, but also subjects such as science, literature and social studies in the language.” And so he continued teaching English in Quebec for 10 years, while pursuing graduate studies in comparative Canadian literature in French.
Living in French and teaching in English in Quebec provided him with a unique perspective that enabled him to make the jump to teaching French and to teaching in French in English Canada. “
Living in one official language and teaching the other seemed like a natural fit, so when I moved to English Canada, I began to teach French classes as well as classes in French,” he explained.
What Ferguson enjoys most about his work is the spirit of cooperation. “
I have been fortunate to belong to very supportive communities of professional learning throughout my career,” he said. He went all the way to Yukon to study the neurolinguistic approach to second language teaching with renowned pedagogical consultant Pascal St-Laurent. Ferguson was able to put this new approach to the test when he worked with a great team at the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island, where his career continues to thrive at two local high schools.
The time he spent in Quebec teaching in French schools was filled with memorable moments. “
I was able to share my knowledge of the English language and English subjects while working in a French environment,” he said. “
For me, it was the perfect marriage of both worlds. As a professional, I felt valued for my knowledge and expertise, and as an individual, I felt complete by being able to participate as an equal in my adopted language and culture.”
However, one of his most unforgettable moments came when he was teaching in Grise Fiord, Nunavut, which is called Auyuittuq in Inuktitut, meaning “
place that never thaws.” There, late spring brings both hunting season and year-end exams. That year, a herd of Peary caribou had ventured near the village, which is a rare occurrence. The students planned to set off on a hunting adventure as soon as they finished their ESL exams. Earlier, Ferguson had read a magazine article about what had happened to a herd of Peary caribou in Resolute Bay, where over-enthusiastic locals had unfortunately hunted every last one of them. Since the Peary caribou is not a native species, no hunting quota has been established. Ferguson took the opportunity to incorporate the issue into the final exam by asking, “
Do you believe in the importance of passing on the tradition of caribou hunting to your children and grandchildren? If so, how do you plan to go about this if there are no caribou left?”
After the exam, the students went hunting. When they got back, one of them confided in the teacher. “
One of the Grade 12 students came to see me and said, ‘I thought about what was on the exam, and we didn’t kill all of the caribou.’ That student is now a conservation officer in Nunavut,” recounted Ferguson.
Eager for new adventures, Ferguson took himself off to South Korea for 12 years to teach English. When he got back to Yukon, he dedicated himself to teaching French French as a second language at the elementary school level, which came with its share of challenges. Teaching methods and students’ needs had changed dramatically. “
I quickly immersed myself in professional development with a focus on resource-based and project-based learning, along with learning how to best connect to students’ socio-emotive needs. It was not a quick transition, though.” Fortunately, armed with new social-emotional needs-based skills and support from his colleagues, he was soon able to establish and build relationships with his students.
Over the years, Ferguson has helped thousands of young Canadians learn a second language. But what does bilingualism mean for them? “
In my opinion, bilingualism allows young Canadians opportunities to open doors both outward to a larger Canadian and global community and inward where they can discover new passions and new aspects of their own identity through another language.” He believes that by going the extra mile to learn a second language, young people gain confidence. According to Ferguson, “
mastering another language and immersing ourselves in another culture helps us to see the world through a different lens, which, in turn, promotes tolerance and the acceptance of diversity.”
She’s a sought-after speaker with a passion for technology. She’s also an English second language teacher and a techno-pedagogical advisor at Jonquière CEGEP in Saguenay, Quebec, where she has been teaching since 1996. For the past six years, she has been participating in virtual exchanges with colleagues from other regions, countries and continents.
Where are you from?” Deguire often asks her students this question to make them aware of their own history and culture. The answer, paradoxically, is not so clear-cut for the teacher—an English-speaking Quebecer who is from . . . all over!
Deguire was born in Quebec into a linguistically mixed (English-French) family and considers herself in many ways to be a product of Canada’s official languages policy. The daughter of a military family, she “
grew up in a home that valued and practiced not only both official languages, but also the language and culture of the places we were posted to.” She was educated in English on armed forces bases across Canada and abroad, and she learned German at a young age, as well. “
In recent virtual exchanges with students and teachers overseas,” she added, “
I’ve been trying to better my knowledge of Spanish and Hebrew, and I’m still learning and improving my French. In some way I wished to return the favour, give back what I was receiving.”
After years spent living abroad and being educated in English, Lisa Deguire felt that she hadn’t become fluent enough in her second official language to be able to work in it, so she decided to use her English skills, her true strength, to help others learn a second language. “
I was proud of my bilingual heritage and wanted to share it.”
In her view, language learning and teaching are inclusive—they help people understand one another better. However, language teaching is also a science, an art and a skill. “
It’s a science in that educators need to stay abreast of cognitive research and best practices to better support students in their learning process. It’s an art in that we communicate our passions and our history through words, painting pictures and creating connections. It’s a skill in that we must be able not only to adapt to the needs of our students, but also to vary our teaching strategies,” she explained.
What Lisa Deguire enjoys most about her job is learning from her students, even if that may seem a bit cliché. She sees language teaching as being multidimensional: “
Our profession is a complex array of interactions, communication, words, ideas, cultures, rules and—more importantly—people.” Passionate about “
the design, development and efficient integration of technology in teaching and learning,” Lisa Deguire started teaching just as the Internet was starting to be introduced into classrooms. Today, she says, technology influences not only “
how we teach, but more and more what we teach our students.”
Deguire recently received an Honourable Mention award from the Association québécoise de pédagogie collégiale for her contributions to teaching. She said it was one of the most rewarding and challenging things she has experienced. “
On the one hand, I’m grateful for the recognition of my efforts, but on the other, I can think of so many colleagues who deserve this as much, if not more!” She said she felt that she was representing “
everyone in our English department in accepting the honour, since none of us can succeed without inspiring colleagues. None of us does the job alone; we build on each other’s experience and creativity.”
However, despite the awards and distinctions, Deguire still considers teaching English as a second language in Quebec to be a challenge. She believes that, in a predominantly French-speaking province, teachers of Canada’s majority official language must have a very clear idea of what their goals are: “
We may choose as educators to ignore partisan politics, but the truth is that we are implementing government policies and are therefore part of the system.”
As a language teacher and as a bilingual person, Deguire supports the right of every minority to protect and promote their language and culture. In recent years, this right has been extended to Indigenous languages, which she is pleased about.
When asked what bilingualism means for young Quebecers, Deguire said she prefers to focus on the positive aspects of the question: “
More than 50% of Quebec youth are bilingual. This shows how open young Quebecers are. In our global economy, they are very aware of the importance of respecting and recognizing all languages and cultures. They often know more about their second language than a native speaker. After all, language is the essence of any one person’s identity.”
She’s dedicated, enthusiastic and open minded, and she teaches French as a second language at Smithers Secondary School in the vibrant small town of Smithers, which lies in the heart of the Bulkley Valley in northern British Columbia.
Robichaud’s passion for her profession ignited during a trip to Europe at the end of high school. She was impressed by the ease with which Europeans speak several languages. “
My childhood home was unilingual, where English was the only language used,” she recounted. “
I realized that I wanted that European quality—to be able to move between different languages with fluidity.”
When she returned to Canada, Robichaud started looking at her options: “
I began to investigate all the incredible programs we have here to help someone learn one of our official languages.” She ended up choosing Université Laval in Québec City, where she completed a four-year bachelor’s degree to improve her French skills. “
My years in Quebec are some of my most cherished memories. Speaking French and being bilingual is a lifelong learning journey for me,” said Robichaud. In addition to confirming her desire to become a teacher, her time in Québec City helped her make an important observation. “
I think what I initially saw as a European quality is an important Canadian quality too: bilingualism.”
Robichaud has been teaching French as a second language for 20 years, now—two decades of showing young people that bilingualism is an opportunity for them “
to grow as individuals, to gain a greater understanding of their maternal language, and to become better learners of their second language.” Even more importantly, “
with bilingualism, there’s this constant engagement of comparing and contrasting the structure of language and expression of ideas,” she added. “
For example, how is this idea represented in English and how is it represented in French? It’s fun to explore.”
Even after all these years, this educator’s enthusiasm is still burning bright. “
I enjoy helping students see the possibilities that learning French can provide, and how speaking French goes beyond the classroom,” she explained. “
I help students realize that being bilingual can be a reality for them, too, no matter how old they are or which program they started French in: immersion or core.” And Robichaud’s class doesn’t focus too much on performance. For her, “
learning French . . . is about creating an experience that enables the student to develop and deepen their language and cultural awareness.”
This is exactly the idea behind a French cooking class that she developed, which she describes as a creative way to “
provide students with an individualized experience of learning one of our official languages and a format for creating a relationship with the language.”. Robichaud admitted, however, that it is difficult to encourage young people to continue their education in their second language. “
This has been a particular challenge, especially at the senior high school levels. And so, I’m trying to encourage students to think about something they love to do and then explore it in French. I love to cook and bake, so I improve and maintain my language skills by engaging in an activity I already enjoy doing.”
Putting it mildly, bilingualism is a big part of Robichaud’s life. “
One of my favorite quotes about bilingualism is from psycholinguist Frank Smith, who said, ‘One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.’”
Her 20 years of experience teaching English as a second language have allowed her to explore many aspects of her profession. She has been teaching at a French-language high school in Quebec’s Outaouais region for the past eight years, and her passion and versatility have not gone unnoticed.
When she started university, Guezen figured she would become an English teacher. However, her career took an unexpected turn when she landed a contract as a second-language teacher at a French school. Luckily, she has never been one to back down from a challenge. “
It was three days before the school year began, and I was thrown into the deep end. I loved it. Not to say it wasn’t difficult—it was—but also worth it,” she said. “
I’ve never looked back. I’ve stayed in the French system, every day trying to show my students how important and fun English can be.”
The versatile educator also grabs every professional development opportunity that comes her way, whether it’s connecting with high school students of all ages; teaching in other cities, like Saint-Jérôme, Lachute and Outremont, and even other countries, like Japan; or switching from a regular to an enriched program. Said Guezen, “
I’ve become, as many of us do, a jack-of-all-levels. One of the only aspects of this profession that I have yet to attempt—and would so like to—is to have a student teacher to work with.”.
Beyond the variability of her profession, Guezen takes advantage of being able to discuss things she is passionate about with young people who have their own opinions, and of having the creative freedom to design her own lesson plans. “
Each new year is a clean slate with limitless potential,” she explained, adding, “
I love the debating, the instruction, the sharing and building of trust. I enjoy the moments when the students finally believe they can do it; when they speak in complete sentences or recite a poem they wrote. I love that I can open doors for them by teaching them this language.”
When asked about the challenges she has faced during her career, Guezen admitted that “
the one that vexes me most is one that’s always present: the pushback to learning English.” She can’t abide “
the perspective that learning English isn’t necessary,” or even useful. “
I’ve fought against this my entire career.”
And that’s not all she has to deal with. The diversity of classrooms today is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges facing second-language teachers. “
I’ve had students who couldn’t understand a word that was coming out of my mouth sitting beside bilingual children ready for their next Tolkien novel. Trying to keep every one of these types of students engaged is a daily challenge. I remember years where I felt like I was teaching three different classes in one.”
Guezen believes that bilingualism is an essential part of Canada’s identity, however, hence her hard work. As she puts it, “
when you know another language, it means you don’t expect everyone to conform to you. You have the capacity to accommodate others. It balances ego and allows students to realize their place in Canada. In Europe, many students learn three languages, so in order to fit in with our global community, you have to at least learn a second language.”
Kristie St Croix
She’s been promoting bilingualism among young people for nearly 18 years. How? By teaching French as a second language. After a six-year stint in Calgary, Alberta, she’s now a teacher at Elizabeth Park Elementary School in Paradise, Newfoundland and Labrador.
St Croix’s love affair with bilingualism started early. When she was 12, she was in a late French immersion program where she not only learned a second language, but also—and, more importantly—met inspiring teachers: “teachers who left me wanting to learn more, discover and experience culture, beyond what a classroom could offer,” she explained.
After completing high school, St Croix still wanted more. Living in a variety of French-speaking communities during her post-secondary studies, including Montréal, was an eye-opening experience for her. “
I began to realize how important my Canadian identity was to me and what being Canadian meant,” said St Croix. “
I began to realize how much I identified as a citizen of this beautiful country, and being able to communicate in both of its official languages was very important to my journey.” This isn’t at all surprising since, as she says, “
bilingualism is a treasured gift of opportunity, one that offers many adventures and meaningful life experiences.”
St Croix said that as she gets older, bilingualism is playing an increasingly significant role in her life. It has opened many doors for her, both personally and professionally, from making new friends to better understanding those around her. For this passionate teacher, bilingualism is, even today, much more than the ability to communicate in two different languages. “
It’s about the path one takes to acquire that language and all of the things one learns along that path,” she explained. “
It’s about taking risks, living and experiencing different cultures, and gaining an understanding and appreciation that we are all different—and that is beautiful.”
The desire to pass these values on and to guide children on their academic path was a driving force behind St Croix’s decision to become a second language teacher—in the hope that one day, these children “
will connect with others and understand tolerance and embrace all differences among us, as global citizens.” Her experience quickly taught her that young people, regardless of age, are curious and eager to learn. This is why she tries to instill in them “
the confidence of knowing that they can learn and do new things as long as they’re willing to work hard and love what they’re doing!”
The Newfoundland and Labrador teacher is always ready to help her students, and one in particular had a profound impact on her. “
There was this one boy who had many challenges. He had difficulty making connections with others and also needed a lot of support in the classroom. He was a boy who was seeking friendship and acceptance and was looking for reassurance.” St Croix worked with him for many hours to develop his confidence and curiosity. As he began feeling supported by his peers, the young boy started to initiate his own learning projects, improve his grades and make meaningful friendships. “
I was moved by his determination to succeed and make progress. His hard work and positive attitude were inspirational to all of those around him. Even when things were very difficult for him, he was willing to try and never got discouraged.”
St Croix described one of the most important lessons from her career to date: “
I believe that a teacher always has the opportunity to learn and that sometimes the greatest opportunity to learn is from the students who surround us.”
She grew up in an academic environment and quickly fell in love with teaching. Currently on staff at Sainte-Lucie Elementary School in Val-d’Or, Quebec, she has been teaching English as a second language for nearly 30 years.
With teaching being a bit of a family business—her mother was a remedial teacher and her aunts were teachers—Jetté knew from the beginning that the profession could be an interesting option for her. Although she hesitated briefly between being a teacher and a translator, it was her “
need to interact with people” that finally tipped the balance.
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in early childhood and elementary education, Jetté started her career as a homeroom teacher. Two years later, she was offered a job teaching English as a second language (ESL) in an elementary school. Little did she know that she would end up being able to combine her twin passions for language and education. “
I accepted the job, figuring I would do it for a year or so. But then I caught the bug . . . big time. So I got my ESL teaching certificate, and the rest, as they say, is history!” explained the teacher who’s been working at the same school for over 20 years.
Jetté’s career has been studded with unforgettable moments, like her experience as a teacher in Quebec’s new ESL pilot program for grades one and two. “
For two years, our small team of teachers—there were just five of us across the province that first year—validated the program, with the support of the Ministry of Education.”
The Val-D’Or educator has a distinguished track record. In 2013, she won the SPEAQ award from the Société pour le perfectionnement de l’enseignement de l’anglais, langue seconde, au Québec. According to Jetté, “
receiving this honour from my peers was incredibly fulfilling and encouraging.” In 2016, her work garnered her the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers’ H.H. Stern Award, given annually to a second language teacher in recognition of their innovative teaching practices.
Being a second language teacher is not all fun and awards, though. “
It’s not easy being a specialist and having to work in several schools. You have to be very organized,” cautioned Jetté. However, “
You have to treat changes as challenges,” she advised. “
Yes, there are changes that are more demanding, like when reforms bring new programs, but being part of a strong team makes all the difference.” Jetté counts herself lucky to teach alongside colleagues who energize and motivate her, and to work with administrators who believe in what she’s doing.
This inspiring teacher loves the variety she finds in her profession and is very proud of what she does. “
Being able to watch a student grow and develop from Grade 1 to Grade 6 . . . that’s priceless,” Jetté enthused. “
Learning a language is a cultural thing for me. It helps us to understand and appreciate our own culture and to make us more open to others. It’s a little like adding extra windows to how we see the world.”