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Class Acts

September 11, 2019

As originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, August 30, 2019.

The floors are gleaming with fresh wax, the desks are arranged just so and the classroom library is organized alphabetically, for the time being.

This "calm before the storm" scene is familiar to the thousands of teachers across Manitoba who have spent the last two weeks in the classroom getting ready for the coming school year.

Aside from mandatory staff meetings, the pre-school prep work is unpaid. Despite this, it's an important part of the back-to-work routine for many teachers.

The Free Press stopped by three classrooms in Winnipeg recently to find out how teachers prepare themselves and their classrooms for first day of school in September.

Kimberley Adair-Gagnon
Grades 7-8, Windsor Park Collegiate

Even though Kimberley Adair-Gagnon is headed into her 20th year of teaching, it's been a while since she's had her own classroom.

For the last three years she worked as an instructional support teacher with the Louis Riel School Division, helping out at schools all over southeast Winnipeg. This year, she's one of three teachers tasked with starting a new junior high program at Windsor Park Collegiate.

"I almost feel like a new teacher again," Adair-Gagnon says.

Next week, about 75 students in grades 7 and 8 will be taking over one wing of the high school.

The new program was born out of necessity to help deal with chronic over-enrolment at École Sage Creek School — according to a 2018 Free Press article, the school was expected to be over capacity by 140 students last September. To address the problem, the division has decided to move the school's junior high population to Windsor Park and Collège Béliveau, for the French-immersion students.

Adair-Gagnon is excited about the fresh start.

"This area was not an often used space in the school before, they were able to totally redesign it to make it fit a middle years program," she says.

Her new classroom has bright white walls and plenty of natural light. It is one of three rooms that surrounds a central common area that will soon be filled with couches and space for group work.

On Aug. 20, just a few hours after she and her colleagues were able to get into the school for the first time during the summer, Adair-Gagnon already had a few things up on the walls and was brainstorming ways to make her students feel at home.

"Things that are going to become routine and support learning in the classroom every day, that warrants wall space for me," she says, looking thoughtfully around the room. "I want my students to see themselves reflected in the space… I don't want to take over the space with my stuff or my agenda."

She hopes to achieve that with bulletin boards reserved for student work and questions. There is also a graffiti wall and a giant black-and-white line drawing of a fish where students can colour whenever they need to de-stress. Adair-Gagnon is quite literally creating a blank canvas for her students to imprint upon.

Even though she planned on spending a few hours at the school organizing her room and lesson planning every day for the last two weeks of her vacation, Adair-Gagnon doesn't view the prep work as a burden. Quite the opposite, actually.

Even though she planned on spending a few hours at the school organizing her room and lesson planning every day for the last two weeks of her vacation, Adair-Gagnon doesn't view the prep work as a burden. Quite the opposite, actually.

Like Battaglia, Adair-Gagnon has also been thinking about school all summer. She spent most of July working on her masters degree and led a professional development workshop for other teachers earlier this month.

"I was just so ready to take all of that learning and consolidate it and come back to the classroom," she says.

As with any extended vacation, the desire to get back to work has also started to creep in.

"You start getting the itch to get back into routine, and of course it's really motivating to come and start with a clean slate to set up your classroom for this new, eager group of kids that are going to be starting soon," she says, adding that she probably won't sleep much the night before the first day of school.

Adair-Gagnon wasn't the only teacher in the school when the Free Press visited; her colleague Anita Fedoruk was two classrooms over, unpacking boxes and getting her own room ready. The prep time also gives teachers a valuable opportunity to connect with each other sans students.

"The beautiful thing is that we all bring a different expertise to the program," Adair-Gagnon says. "The more that we can work together, the better it is for the students."

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RT @UNESCO: The fight against #ClimateChange is also a fight for peace. Climate change is not just a threat to the 🌎’s ecosystem - it threatens our fundamental rights & international ☮️. On International #PeaceDay, we invite read @UNESCOCourier and learn more 👉https://t.co/SI9n6rY4iB https://t.co/4IKY6l5Rph

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RT @UNESCO: #ClimateChange threatens international #Peace. It... forces millions to leave their homes 🌪️ endangers food security🌾 accelerate tensions over resources🌎 This is the battle of our lives, a race against time. We can win -- and we must! ℹ https://t.co/ZL5tMNpBKh #PeaceDay https://t.co/dhBk0xH9IT

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RT @mbteachers: Superb #Indigenous awareness training for MTS staff & Provincial Executive today by @sonyaballantyne (Pic 1, centre), plus @kelseylenaghan & Bobbie-Jo Leclair (Pic 2, centre). Some of the most anticipated sessions of the year. #OrangeShirtDay is September 30th! #everychildmatters https://t.co/jrJjqvK8Ke

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