CUPE3908: Learn about Unit 1 Member Prof. Mitch Champagne.

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Meet Prof. Mitch Champagne

In summertime, the majority of teachers are taking a much-deserved vacation. But not Prof. Mitch Champagne, a part-time instructor in Trent University’s School of Education and a full-time elementary teacher with the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNCCDSB). This summer at Trent, he’s teaching a university preparatory course for English-as-a-second language students. In mid-August, he’ll start three courses in Trent’s School of Education. Then in September, he’ll take on a full-time position teaching Grade 8 at Immaculate Conception in Peterborough.

Prof. Champagne has been an elementary school teacher for 11 years, and in 2008 started teaching at Trent part-time. He found a secure career in elementary teaching, as he was hired full time right away. However, he says, “I’ve been at Trent for eight years, and I often don’t know if I’ll have a job next year or even next term. When the postings go up, you apply and hope to get one.”

The collective agreement that CUPE 3908 (Unit 1) has with the University offers some security: “Once you’ve taught the class a few times and been deemed competent, there’s a priority for you to get that job over someone else,” he explains. “We have first refusal in the collective agreement.”

Bargaining to mitigate job precarity

As CUPE’s general vice president, with experience in bargaining, Prof. Champagne will be involved in the next round of collective agreement bargaining. His main goal: “to alleviate some of the precarity from some of the members.” He thinks it’s a great opportunity for “the employer and CUPE to sit down and look at the facts: that a high percentage of students are being taught by Unit 1 contract instructors. It’s in everyone’s best interests to find a way to offer more permanency to those people.”

“We can’t continue down the road we’re going down,” he continues. “Precarious situations aren’t fun for anybody. Being secure in your job is so important, in terms of the mental-health benefits alone – to the university, to the community and society.”

He says he’s always been interested in workers rights, but is quick to add that understanding both positions is important. “You can’t go in feeling you know all the answers. Rather than considering it a conflict of priorities, you have to keep an open mind and work together to solve a problem,” he explains. “That’s where healthy negotiation and results come from.”

Experiential teaching approach

Prof. Champagne teaches the School of Education’s science course from “an inquiry-minded standpoint,” he explains. “I try to make each lecture a model for how they might teach something to elementary students. You don't learn science by reading, but by doing and experiencing it.” So one activity he’s done each of the four times he’s taught the course is make ice cream. “They learn that salt alters the freezing temperature of ice. In winter, we go outside to get snow, which makes it more fun.”

Not only do his science students “leave every class having done something,” he says, they also “leave the course with a tool-box of activities.” While teaching curriculum development, Prof. Champagne gets students to create activities they’ll use when they’ve graduated and become teachers. “I create an online reservoir so they can share with each other – there are 25 activities from me, and each student contributes three or four during the year. And that’s across the science curriculum – there are activities for every grade. To have that for your first year is fantastic. Students have contacted me afterwards to say how beneficial it’s been.”

Prof. Champagne also finds ways to merge his two areas of teaching. Towards the end of the school year at Immaculate, he created a “food forest” on the school’s front lawn. He and his students planted “food-producing shrubs, trees, and perennials.” Then he took his Trent science class to visit, “to see what inquiry- and discovery-based learning can look like,” he explains. “There were math tie-ins, because we had to calculate how much soil and compost and so on were needed.” And in September, “Everything can be harvested and used to teach other things, such as seed propagation.”

“I showed my Trent students that this is how you can teach earth science and invest it with meaning,” he says, adding that a tenured Trent faculty member came along to help build it, recognizing the value it could have to the School of Education’s curriculum. “It was worthwhile,” Prof. Champagne says. “The mental-health aspect of getting outside and gardening was great too.”

A love of working with – and learning from – people

Aside from simply enjoying working with people, he also finds inspiration in his students: “I not only help them but learn from them everyday – I get as much out of its as they do for sure. I love to learn. Being a teacher has allowed me to continue in that environment the rest of my life!”

He’s also had great mentors in the School of Education: “I can’t say enough good things. And I’ve worked with a couple of tremendous deans who’ve gone out of their way to include everyone,” he says. He adds that the faculty orientation meeting every August is “fantastic – it could be a model for how other departments handle their faculty orientation.”

“I’m going into my 12th year and I’m loving every minute of it,” he says. “No two days are the same – you never know what you’re going to encounter.”

“It’s scary but rewarding. I enjoy helping people get through their daily challenges. Then I come home and do that with my four kids,” he says with a smile. The oldest is Ava, age 7, followed by Stella, 5; Elias, 4; and Holden, almost 2. “They keep me and my wife Christine very busy!”

All things considered, he feels very fortunate. “I feel lucky to have attended and to be working at Trent now – it’s a dream come true,” he says. “I’m interested in contributing to the University, and I know all my part-time colleagues are too.”

Last modified: 02-Oct-16

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