My home is in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but I drive 65km each day over the Canadian prairie to work at Clearspring Middle School in Steinbach, a city with a population of about 15,000 people. Steinbach was originally a German community but it has taken on a multicultural flavour in recent years. My school was opened in 2012 in response to the city's rapid population growth, resulting from immigration from Germany, Russia, Paraguay and the Philippines.
As a bilingual nation and a member of La Francophonie, Canada has a strong culture of French language education - in most of Manitoba, it is mandatory until students are 13 or 14 years old. But when I started teaching French more than two decades ago, the subject was at the bottom of administrators' priority lists and respect for the language in the community was painfully low.
Over time, a small but determined group of teachers and principals (myself included) have worked to improve the status of French by lobbying for adherence to the minimum instructional time allocated to teach it, along with access to better resources.
I left a coveted position at the largest high school in the province for an opportunity to work as the French specialist at Clearspring. Now I teach students aged between 11 and 14 over eight periods in the school day. Each period is exactly 34 minutes in length, and by the end of the day more than 200 students will have crossed the threshold into my classroom. I strive to create an interactive environment where everyone participates. Learning the children's names is the first step in building that relationship, but it is a challenge with the number of new faces each year.
Although I am the school's French specialist, the sheer number of students - 570 this year - means that any French classes that do not fit into my schedule are taught by homeroom teachers who have training in French as second language instruction. As the team leader, it is my responsibility to guide these teachers in developing quality programmes. I also coordinate French cultural events for the school. For these tasks, I am allotted 22 minutes of "unassigned time" in my daily schedule, but this does not coincide with the breaks of the other French teachers, so carving out time for us to meet is a big challenge.
Now, thanks to a great deal of hard work, French is valued and respected more than ever, both in the school and in the community. Every day, I am greeted with "Bonjour, Madame!" in our bustling hallways.
Students routinely make use of links on my classroom wiki to revise for tests or practise their French for fun. And a small but ambitious group of students has joined me in testing the efficacy of a new French app, at the invitation of the app's creators.
Even the busiest of days fly by when all those around me share my passion for the beautiful French language.
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