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Université de Montréal

Portrait of a researcher

Sustainable teaching and learning

Geneviève Carpentier


Assistant Professor, Department of Psychopedagogy and Andragogy

For years, Quebec’s education community has been searching for solutions to certain problems in the classroom. And at the highest levels of government, there is confusion about what to do. Geneviève Carpentier has some ideas. But before getting to solutions, she wants to diagnose the problem: “I think societies get the teachers they deserve. Who’s going to enrol in an education program with the current conditions in the schools, in the classroom, the salaries and working conditions?”

Carpentier knows the subject well. For six years, she taught elementary school in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. She quit ten years ago because of the gap between what she had learned at university and the reality she saw on the ground. With three young children at home, she decided to go back to school to earn a master’s degree and then a Ph.D. “I want students to learn in ways that last, to become lifelong learners,” she says. “And teachers are the primary agents in the process. What can they do in the classroom to help students to develop autonomy, to make connections between what they see and learn in school and real life? That’s what I’m trying to understand.”

The professional pressures on teachers (her thesis topic) stem not only from day-to-day problems with students but also from fellow teachers leaving the profession, one after the other. “The going gets tough,” she says.

Do you miss teaching?

Yes, very much. I miss the classroom, the kids and the student-teacher relationship. When you spend 180 days building something with the students and your fellow teachers, there’s a sense of community. I miss that. It’s one of the reasons I don’t spend my days in my office but in classrooms with teachers, listening to them, asking them questions. Together, we’re looking for solutions.

The number of primary and secondary school teachers is shrinking at an alarming rate. What can be done to turn things around?

During the pandemic, the government sent out a cry for help to everyone at the universities that train students in the health sciences, to retired nurses, and so forth. But our schools are also in crisis and we’re not hearing a call for help. When I say “we,” I mean the hundreds of academic advisors, university professors and lecturers. It’s not a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul. People who have teaching credentials should be asked to help, instead of turning to people who may have other skills but not teaching skills.