Three Canadian teachers have been recognized internationally for their work and are now among the contenders for a $1-million (U.S.) prize.

Two teachers from Quebec and one from New Brunswick are among the 50 educators shortlisted for an annual Global Teacher Prize, awarded by the Varkey Foundation, a U.K.-based charity. There were more than 20,000 nominations.

The foundation will narrow the shortlist to 10 finalists in February, and a winner will be announced in March.

Respectively, Canada’s three nominees have turned their classroom into a science museum, helped develop programs for students at risk of dropping out and initiated a Harry Potter theme week.

Yvan Girouard, science teacher at L’École secondaire Les Etchemins, Charny, Que. Yvan Girouard does more than teach his students about science. He has turned his classroom into a science museum.

Posters line his classroom walls. He has brought in aquariums and taxidermied animals. He has also built a large dinosaur in the room out of recycled materials. Mr. Girouard said he has created a museum in his classroom to help his students develop a passion for science.

“I want students to have a nice memory of my classroom museum class because I want them to like science, and [to] motivate them to continue their studies at college or university,” Mr. Girouard said.

His classroom is an open space for all students at the school. They will often bring their lunches or laptops into the room to work on other assignments, he said.

Mr. Girouard studied biochemistry in university. But he said that he always wanted to teach science. He has been teaching since 1994.

“I love teaching science because it allows us to understand everything around us. The more we learn to know our planet, the more we must be careful to protect it for future generations,” he said.

He joked that the science museum in the classroom keeps his wife happy as well, because the exhibits are not taking up space in the house or the garage.

“Now, I bring it directly into my classroom,” he said.

Maggie MacDonnell, teacher at the Ikusik School in Salluit, Nunavik, northern Quebec Originally from Nova Scotia, Maggie MacDonnell was working on youth-development projects overseas when she received a message from her sister, a social worker in the North, that a school was having a difficult time recruiting a teacher.

She was working in the Congo when she interviewed and then accepted the job at the Ikusik School, in northern Quebec.

For six years now, Ms. MacDonnell has been teaching a life-skills program, a project-based approach for indigenous youth who are at risk of dropping out. Initially, she said that few female students enrolled, because they did not feel comfortable in a classroom dominated by males, some of whom were carrying serious criminal charges.

Ms. MacDonnell convinced the school board to create a separate program for girls. The spots immediately filled up, she said.

She has helped her students on various projects, including running a thrift store and starting a student catering company.

Ms. MacDonnell said her role as a teacher is to build confidence in her students, as well as teach them entrepreneurship and communication skills.

“As you may be aware, graduation rates are pretty grim in the north. Project-based learning is a good strategy to try to keep kids in school,” she said.

Ms. MacDonnell described the challenges in the north as “heartbreaking.”

But, she added, that “the level of connection that you can have with youth and the community is so touching. After you’ve demonstrated yourself, the embrace is so warm. You end up feeling very much a part of the place and feel like you play a very meaningful role with the students.”

Armand Doucet, teacher at Riverview High School, Riverview, N.B. Armand Doucet gave up a career in sales to teach, describing his work as an educator as the “greatest possible job you can do.”

He allows his students to be creative and become problem-solvers while meeting curriculum goals.

Mr. Doucet accomplished this a couple of years ago by spearheading a Harry Potter week at his school. It was a way to encourage reading and improve student literacy.

He led a team of teachers who transformed the middle school at Riverview, where he worked prior to coming to the high school, into Hogwarts. It took a full year of planning. Teachers dressed in costume, classrooms were transformed and Harry Potter themes were incorporated into the curriculum. The idea garnered international attention with close to two million views online.

“Our number-one goal is to help develop students and help them develop a love of learning. And we thought that this would help,” Mr. Doucet said.

“I think they had a phenomenal time,” he added “My end goal as a teacher is to make sure my students get out of high school with the possibility of being able to learn on their own,” Mr. Doucet said. “It’s not necessarily about just learning the curriculum. It’s also about developing lifelong learning.”

It is much more difficult to bring a Harry Potter week project into a high school, because students have varying schedules. But Mr. Doucet has his students working on projects they are passionate about and linking it to the course curriculum.

He said that he wants his students to develop critical-thinking skills that are necessary to their futures.

“My goal is to teach the curriculum content intertwined with the skills they need to be able to strive in the world that they’re going to be in once they leave the school system,” he said. “It’s not just about the curriculum content. It’s about skills development.”

The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016 7:16PM EST
Last updated Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016 9:21PM EST