Success stories of former language assistants

Yves Desrochers

It’s funny sometimes just how huge an impact a little decision can have when you’re young. When I graduated from high school, I would never have imagined that I would end up working in the field of education. And yet…

When I was a university student (and short of cash), someone suggested that I apply for a job as a language assistant. Without knowing quite what the heck a language assistant was, I went to the interview and answered the questions as best I could. And somehow, I was offered the job. Lucky me!

I was a language assistant for Grades 7 and 8, and then at the secondary level. I must say that it wasn’t always easy to deal with teachers who didn’t always know exactly what to do with a language assistant, or with students who didn’t necessarily like the activities I proposed. Still, I got the bug. I loved working in an educational setting, and I particularly enjoyed working with youth.

Ever since, I’ve devoted myself completely to that world. I worked as a facilitator at language-immersion school camps, taught evening courses to adults, worked in summer camps,... In short, I completely changed my career path. Goodbye to interminable hours in the world of international finance! Hello to days of joy in the not-always-easy world of teaching! I went on to teach Kindergarten to Grade 8, worked as an academic counsellor, and gave workshops all over Ontario, Quebec, and even in Europe. Then I became a school principal, first at elementary school, and later at high-school level. Eventually, I became an education officer in the ministry of education (you might well ask what the heck an education officer is — you’ll have to find that out for yourself…). And throughout my 20-year career in education, the language-assistant program was a part of my work, whether as a teacher supervising a language assistant, a local program organizer for my school board, or a facilitator for language-assistant training sessions.

Pretty good, you might say. Indeed. But, without a doubt, I wouldn’t have made it here if not for the job I took on when I was only 21.

My thanks to the language-assistant program, which opened so many doors for me.


Jacinthe Leclerc

My life really took off because of the language-assistant program! After completing my bachelor’s degree in psychology at l‘Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, I wanted to take a break from my studies to learn English. That’s when I signed up for the Odyssey program. In August 1986, at the wheel of my Renault 5 loaded with my few possessions, I hit the 401 heading for Mississauga, where I had rented a room. I had been assigned to the Dufferin-Peel School Board to work at two schools in Mississauga and one in Bolton, in Grades 5 and 6 immersion classes. At the Bolton school, I worked on a play with the students. Not only did they have to learn their lines, they had to make the sets and costumes as well. We even made a video recording of the performance. My salary as a language assistant for the 1986–87 session was $8,000. I also did some babysitting after school. For me, it was manna from heaven!

I was lucky to have a brother living nearby in downtown Toronto, and I visited him regularly, taking advantage of these visits to discover the big city. As a native of Saint-Basile-de-Portneuf, a small village in western Quebec, Toronto was a huge city with endless possibilities. In addition to falling in love with Toronto, I met the man who would become my husband and the father of my two sons. I would never have guessed at the time that we would still be together after 25 years.

I got my first job because I was bilingual. Throughout my career in the Ontario Public Service, I was always working to promote francophone interests, and I’m proud of it. Paradoxically, learning English helped me discover and love my mother tongue and my culture even more. Both of my sons live in both languages, but they have always attended a French-language school.

This, in just a few lines, is a recap of a long career that began with the language-assistant program. Good luck!

Jean-Gilles Pelletier

I have been working as the Executive Director of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner of the Ontario Government since January 2016. 

Previously, I worked at the Ontario Trillium Foundation as the Vice-President, Community Investments, since April 1, 2014. The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is a governmental organization and Canada’s leading granting foundation.

At the OTF, my annual portfolio was approximately $80 million, invested in arts and culture, sports and recreation, social services, and environmental initiatives.

I also worked for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), from May 2008 to March 2014 as Director of Administration and Official Languages. I was thrilled to accept the job because CMEC’s official-languages programs had played such an important role in my life.

In 1988, I moved to Toronto to improve my English and join my spouse at the time, a native of Toronto. We had met in Quebec City, and I soon learned that her knowledge of French was largely due to her participation (twice) in the Explore program — in 1982 in Quebec City, and in 1986 in Trois-Rivières. She enjoyed her experience so much that she became a teacher and has been teaching intensive Grade 8 French in Toronto since 1982. My children were born here and have grown up in French.

As for me, I had the opportunity to take part in the Accent program — the part-time language-assistant program — on two occasions, in 1984–85 in Burnaby, British Columbia, and in 1988–89 in Scarborough, a neighbourhood of Toronto. I learned a great deal about Canada and about myself during these two formative years. In fact, my future career combined my love of French and my proficiency in both official languages.

I was able to pursue my education in sociology and political science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, at Laval University in Quebec City, and at the University of Toronto.

I worked for the Ontario government for 10 years at the Office of Francophone Affairs and at the Ministry of Finance. I left the public service in 1997 to become Director General of the Centre francophone de Toronto, a multiservice francophone centre in Toronto, and spent 10 years there, during which I was able to bring about a merger with the Centre médico-social communautaire and thereby broaden the range of French services available in Toronto.

At CMEC, I never ceased to be amazed by the success stories of those who entered the Explore and Odyssey programs, which enable thousands of Canadians every year to improve their skills in their second official language. At a recent training session for some 100 language assistants, I was astonished by the energy and contagious enthusiasm they had for sharing their culture and promoting their language. Your presence is highly valued by the school boards you work for and the youth you work with. I want to thank each and every one of you for being part of the wonderful and ever-evolving Odyssey experience.


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