Second language teachers
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.”