It’s hard to imagine waking up every morning and gathering, quite literally, thousands of chicken eggs all before going to school, taking tests, doing homework, and getting enough sleep.
Adele Saint-Pierre grew up on a farm in Maine, as the second youngest of 11 children. Each morning, along with her brothers and sisters, she would help her parents on the farm; school came later. Her mother and father, with 8th grade and high school educations respectively, have been farming their whole lives, and school was never really associated with success.
“For them, the idea of pursuing studies after high school seemed a waste of time, not to mention money. Children, girls especially, were supposed to get a job and get married and start their own families,” said Dr. Saint-Pierre.
Despite this, Adele fell in love with school, with learning, with wanting to find out more. In fact, it is this love that has always seemed to push her in new directions, and provided her with different opportunities. At the end of high school, with the help of her teachers, she applied and was accepted to three universities in Maine. Her parents told her that if she wanted to go to college, she had to pay her own way. She went to the public university, worked as a student, and finally moved to Québec, where she attended Université Laval and earnt her PhD.
For students that have been in her classes, it comes as no surprise that she has always wanted to teach. After a formative experience with a second grade primary school teacher, she began to realize it was what she wanted to do. As she moved up through the school system, the age she wanted to teach mirrored that of her own. Ultimately, the relationship between teaching and learning resonated with her and she ended up teaching high school students. After working in a high school in Massachusetts for five years, Dr. Saint-Pierre is in her sixth year at Packer, and her eleventh year as a teacher.
As with all aspects of her life, she says, everything is always under revision and development. The same goes for her job. After hearing a talk on the importance, or little importance, of homework, teachers were encouraged by Packer to experiment with not assigning work outside of class. Adele shifted her lesson plans and quickly realized how little she needed to rely on homework. It was “something that happened organically,” she said, and was a shift that was, in part, due to her four years as an advisor to SFJC.
“I’d always had a problem with homework. And the only reason I ever gave it was because I felt that I had to. And that I would be judged as an easy teacher if I didn’t. I started polling my students; I started asking them how much time they spent on my homework, whether or not they thought it was important, etc. So the things that I really thought I understood about homework really weren’t true.”
Oddly enough, getting rid of homework created far more work for Ms. Saint-Pierre. She switched to creating classes that demanded her students to push themselves in class, and fully immerse themselves in the language. In turn, the grade a student gets is based on class work — but unconventional class work — a mix of reading, talking, writing, interacting with films and songs, and answering questions about texts. There is no shortage of creativity. It means, however, that a fifty-minute lesson can take up to an hour and a half to plan. And just finding a question that the class can dig into can take close to an hour.
Beyond teaching, Dr. Saint-Pierre keeps herself busy exploring new things, perfecting old things, and finding things to explore that she might never have known about. It’s a testament to her strong sense of self and stubborn determination that she has taught herself almost every skill or talent she has wanted to learn. When we talked about how she learns new things, it almost seemed silly to consider any other way of learning something.
The guitar, for example, is something she learnt to play in her early twenties. She realized that if she wanted to sing the songs she wanted to perform, she would have to learn to play an instrument. Spanish, which is now her third language, is something she has also recently started to learn. She reads Spanish text for at least half an hour a day on the treadmill, works with a program for an hour daily, and meets with someone once a week to work on conversational Spanish. She is also part of a student-led Spanish book club at Packer.