Learning Statement Vol.2 – Speaking at Kahnawake Survival School

I was one of them. 

So a few weeks ago, my old French teacher from Kahnawake Survival School, Mark Polson, had approached me with a unique proposition. He wanted me to return to my old high school and speak with the Grade 9, 10, and 11 classes on the importance of French both in CÉGEP and in daily life.

For context, Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) was founded in 1978, in protest to the controversial Bill 101, which required that students attend school en français. The students from Kahnawake, who were attending H.S. Billings in Chateauguay, decided to walk out. They felt that learning Kanien’keha, the Mohawk language, should be more important than learning French. Thus, Kahnawake Survival School was born.

Today, in addition to Social Studies, Math, Chemistry and Language Arts; KSS has one Mohawk class and one French class in its schedule. Social Studies focuses mainly on historical events from the perspective of the Indigenous population, as well as the Indian Act. The Mohawk class aims provide a foundation for the students to base their identity on. Students learn, or rather are reminded (because it’s common belief that the language resides within all Mohawk people), of Mohawk legends and vocabulary.

The French class aims to prepare students for the outside world, and more importantly, for CÉGEP’s French Placement Test. However, students tend to be opposed to the concept of taking on French. This may stem from the numerous negative encounters with Non-Indigenous people in the past, from Contact to the recent Oka Crisis. The motivation to learn this language is simply not there, and so Mark Polson (and the other members of the French Faculty) asked me to try and help the students.

So for two days, October 17th & 26th, I got up extra early to make the trip to my high school, and present to the students my story. I struggled in CÉGEP, and actually spent two extra years at Vanier College to finish up my French. The reason may be because I did not take my French classes seriously in KSS, and when I reached Vanier, I was met with students who had the advantage of Bill 101. However, I now had the opportunity to encourage high school students to be prepared for what’s ahead. Because I’m an alumni of KSS, there was an instant connection with the students, I was one of them.

This experience was perfect for honing Competency 1:

“To act as a professional who is inheritor, critic and interpreter of knowledge or culture when teaching students.”

Not only was this an opportunity to help the students, but it was also a chance to know what it feels like to be a teacher. The French Faculty welcomed me, and treated me with utmost respect; I was one of them. In the class, my background in theatre gave me an edge on having a large presence that held the attention of the students. Given that I had two days, I was able to learn from the first set of presentations and improve for the second set. I took note of the strategies I used; which was a mixture of both PowerPoint Presentation and an oral recollection. I noticed that my PowerPoint was not totally engaging, and that students tuned out when I was presenting. By the second set of presentations, I ditched the PowerPoint altogether and focused primarily on my oral presentation.

Along with the first Competency, it was also a chance to hone Competency 2: 

“To communicate clearly in the language of instruction, both orally and in writing, using correct grammar, in various contexts related to teaching.”