About Hugues Bertrand
Hugues Bertrand is a Social Studies and Leadership teacher at Pierrefonds Community High School in Pierrefonds Quebec for 26 years now. Long time Quebec leadership advisor, Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC) 2010 chair and Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA) member.
Hugues has always been a student life enthusiast helping students discover themselves and reaching their true potential. He truly believes in being open-minded when interacting with students and emphasizes the importance of simply listening to what they have to say.
Connect with Hugues: Email
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Hugh Bertrand. He’s been teaching for over 26 years. He’s also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had a virtual background on zoom during our interview, and he airs so many amazing insights into ideas to engage his students, to make them feel a little more appreciated and valued during this time. And he also shares this idea about keeping an envelope of all the notes he has been receiving over the years of teaching and calling it his bad day file, where if he’s not having a great day, he pulls a note out, reads it to remind him self, why you got into education. There’s so many other insightful ideas on this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Take notes, listen actively, and I’ll see you on the other side. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to come out onto the High Performing Educators podcast. I’m curious to know, can you share with the audience who you are and what you into the work that you do with youth today?
Hugues Bertrand (01:04):
Okay, well, I’m I’m Hugues, I’ve been teaching for 26 years. I got started teaching, I guess my dad was a teacher, so that that’s obviously I knew a bit about the job but definitely doing a lot of student life stuff that that’s just, you know, wanting to make a difference and helped kids reach their potential you know, overcome the roadblocks. That’s thrown at them like by themselves or by others. So that’s kind of been my motivation.
Sam Demma (01:31):
Awesome. When did you know a lot of teachers, I speak to say they, they knew at this super young age, some of them say they figured it out after going to university. What was the case for you?
Hugues Bertrand (01:39):
I think you know, what I decided just before, you know, university I had all these different jobs you know, from being a lawyer notary to dentist and and and then just before university, when I to decide, I, you know, decided to go into teaching first it was Phys. Ed. and then high school degree. And you know, and then I just kind of branched out to social studies and in high school. So that’s, that’s when I decided it.
Sam Demma (02:06):
That’s awesome. And you’ve been teaching longer than I’ve been alive. That just means that you’re a wise and, and you know, so much about it and can provide so much great insight. And I’m really curious to kind of dive a little bit more into that. Have you been at the same school for your entire 26 years? Have you bounced around what kind of different roles have you played in?
Hugues Bertrand (02:29):
I have been pretty lucky. I’ve been in two schools. I started in, in an inner city school in Montreal for four years. Yep. And then that school closed. And then I moved to the, the school I’m at now PCHS in Pierrefonds. And I’ve been there for while now it’s like 22 years.
Sam Demma (02:42):
Awesome. So cool. And there’s a lot of challenges this year in education. Things are definitely different. I don’t want to make it negative or seem like there’s roadblocks in every way we turn, but COVID presented us with opportunities and challenges. What are some of those challenges that you’re seeing day to day in your school and whether it’s virtually while you’re at home or sitting in an office?
Hugues Bertrand (03:04):
When I think about that question is it’s, you know, like overall, like the help, right? Like, that’s like, you gotta be conscious of your own health. And then your, and your student’s health and your own family. As I explained to my students, like on day one you know, guys, like, you know, I’m more, all this PPE welcome to the new normal this, this didn’t feel normal to me. And I was very honest with them. And know they were all wearing masks in class. I was very lucky. My students were pretty good. I mean, they don’t have to wear it. They can, they can take it off while they’re sitting, but most of them do which share reassuring. So that that’s definitely like some of the challenges, like the hell aspect of it, it kids being off for six months in Quebec, like that was like, you know, that was like, they’re rusty. So that’s something that we need to keep in mind. you know, and in the mix, my school, like the seniors mix one day at school, one day at home. So like juggling the online and, and in class you know, like you got to adapt, like they have to, but you also have to adapt.
Sam Demma (03:59):
Yeah. That’s so true. How do you find teaching virtually is it a challenge? How do you get cameras? How do you get students to turn their cameras on and raise their hands and, and speak in class is difficult?
Hugues Bertrand (04:10):
Right. I, I find it’s made me a better teacher. Like I realize that the other day, like you know, I was being ready for a session and, and I definitely keep it shorter. Our classes are 75 minutes school and, and, you know, I pants to myself, lecturing. I rarely lecture for 35 minutes at school anyway. So I try to like mix it up and you know, having them to have their cameras on is, is a challenge. You know, like I know like there’s some schools that have rules and they have to have it on, but then it’s like, you know, it’s, it’s facing a wall or, yeah. You know, I noticed this morning, I was, I was teach out a few online classes and some of their bad, they were, some of them were in their bedroom and it was really dark.
Hugues Bertrand (04:45):
Like I could see the shades were down and everything. And I, I made a few comments, like guys, like, you know, like, it’s almost like it’s night in your room. Like, , you know, let, let let in some lights. But yeah, it’s not easy. I, I try to to flip the classroom a bit. So I put some talking points up and then I, and I try to engage them. And even though like, when you share documents, depending on what you’re using, you don’t see them all, but like, I call out their names, so then they have to kind of be there. And and I, you know, I, I kind of like share, like, I usually share material with them ahead of class or during class. I’m like, Hey guys, there’s a video here. That’s 15 minutes when I’m done, you’re gonna know, watch this. And then be ready to talk about it next class. So I kind of like, it’s, it’s made me a better teacher, I think, cuz I have to think about delivery. I have to think about the material I’m using. Some of the things that I was using, I can’t use anymore in the same way. So I, I think like, you know, it’s forced me to be more creative.
Sam Demma (05:37):
That’s awesome. I think that’s a beautiful way to look at it. No, one’s given me a response like that yet. And I’ve done a dozen in interview so far making you a better teacher. So you look at it from the positive perspective. There’s so much challenges going on right now, but like you are looking at this from a positive angle. I’m curious to know what gives you hope personally despite the challenges, what keeps you going, what keeps you motivated and hopeful with the work that you’re doing?
Hugues Bertrand (06:03):
I think I, I believe in the end science will win. I mean I think that’s, you know, you have to think that this is gonna, this too shall pass is gonna end. If not, I think you just gotta go bonkers. So you gotta, you gotta believe that it’s gonna, there’s gonna be an, we don’t know when you know, I mean so, so, and I think it, it forced people to take a look at their own life. What really matters obviously when we were quarantined for like all these months in the winter last year, you know, like, I mean like my, my wife’s the teacher also, so we were both at home teaching from home. Our two kids were at home going to school at home. So, you know, so that forced us to kind of like, you know work around those things. But it’s a, it’s kind of like, you know, you gotta slow down. I think, I think it’s forced me to slow down and then, okay, so I can’t do this and this and this anymore. So I think, I think, you know, like I have the hope that it’s, you know, I, I hone, I, sorry, I hope I, I hold onto the hope that it’s it’s, you know, science will win. And then basically you know, and then I kind of like just kind of prioritize things.
Sam Demma (07:04):
That’s awesome. I love that. It makes perfect sense. There’s nothing else that we can do this. Stuff’s kind of out of our control and we have to just let it play. Its play its part and then we’ll get going when it’s done. I’ve spoken again to dozens of educators already. And I’ve asked them this question, you know, we’ve, you’ve been in education for 26 years. You’ve helped dozens of students, maybe not even academically, but also with their mental health, with their physical health. Maybe you’ve mentored them, gave them some life changing advice. And maybe once or twice someone’s written you a letter when they’re like 20 years older saying hug, you changed my life back in class. And now I’m doing this job because of what you said. And I’m curious to know what can we do during COVID that will ensure that the kids that are in your class right now have that same response 20 years later. Like how do we, how do we care for our kids right now?
Hugues Bertrand (07:56):
I think, I think we gotta be there and listen we gotta be patient. You know, I mean, I’m getting like, you know, they have lots of questions and, and they have a lot of things that they’re not sure about. And then so I think we gotta hear them out. I like, for example, like, you know, like I mentioned, there’s six months, like kind of rust that asked needs to be knocked off. So, you know, things like, you know, maybe you would’ve done three, three projects and from one and then maybe you’ll do two and maybe you’ll have to walk them through things. You know and then if they’re like, you go off topic, like you gotta, you know, like you ha you have to take the time to listen to them. And, and, and sometimes this is the best thing you can do is listen.
Hugues Bertrand (08:34):
You know when I think back of kids, who’ve gone back to me over the years. You know, and unfortunately I there’s been many in, in those are bonuses that I call as I call them. Mm-Hmm you know, I think, I think, yeah, what did I do while I listen? I gave him the time you know, and like we had a case at school yesterday, like it was announced, but the way it’s announced, it’s, it’s, you know, there’s a student in a class bubble that that’s positive. So that question, that kid was already at home, so they isolate the class and yet, but some other kids in the school were like, you know, they were, I, my grade 11 class, they were upset. We wanna know who it is. We wanna know what level. And I know I, and I stopped the lesson to kind of explain like what you can’t it’s privacy it’s, you know, how would you feel is of people knew your help you know, what, what goes on between you and the doctor?
Hugues Bertrand (09:18):
So, but I mean, I could have like, just pushed a lesson, but I stopped mm-hmm cause I think they, they were uneasy. They were nervous. They, they, they, they want, they were, they were reacting to this situation. So I think we need that’s what we need to do is we need to slow down. We need to listen to them. You know, we don’t all, maybe we don’t have all the answers, but at least if we’re listening to them and gave ’em a chance to like, like a platform you know, and, and, and also I think sometimes like we gotta you know, try to like, not steer away from it, but like, you know, there’s other things going on in COVID is everywhere in the social media. It’s, it’s in news, it’s everywhere. So I think they kind of need a bit of release from that.
Sam Demma (09:53):
Sometimes I love that we have two ears of one mouth. My mentor told me, it means you have to listen twice as much as we speak. And I think it’s a beautiful testament, especially in a classroom when student voice is being heard very little, especially right now with what’s going on. And aside from teachers, they’re the next in line being affected to a major degree. So I think that’s a beautiful point. And I appreciate you for sharing that in terms of, of students that have been impacted by your direct teaching and mentorship over the years, I would love for you to share a story or two that touches your heart deeply of a student you’ve impacted. You can change their name for the sake of privacy, but do you have a story you’d like to share of a, a student who’s maybe talked to you after they graduated and said, how big of an impact they had on, on, on their life?
Hugues Bertrand (10:39):
You know what, like, it’s funny, you mentioned that and I get emotional and then like having taught 26 years and you know, and, and I, I’m kind, I think I’m the same guy after 26 years. I’m a little bit wiser. I, I sometimes like you know, I’m better at what I do. But yeah, there’s a few that I can say I can think of, but I think like, you know, when I, I think back on my first four years of teaching in inner city you know, being like 23 and, and, and I remember like, like the kids I bonded well with the kids and, and them with me. And so I guess like 30 years later, like I get these, the Facebook you know, I mean, I’m old, so I’m on Facebook.
Hugues Bertrand (11:19):
And I got this Facebook messenger from, from an ex student. You know, who’s now as a family of five kids and says, look, I just wanted to let you know, thank you for impacting my life. And I wanna let you know that I have a job now. And, you know, and I got out of like where inner city, where we lived and I’m married, I have five kids and I’m working. And so that, that, that was really meaningful for me. And this is, this was the student I always said I was closed with. And I took under my wing and you know, spent a lot of time with listening and sometimes steering them in the, in the right direction. You know, I mean, if I come closer in, in, in, you know, to my career, like, like in the last 10 years, like I have students, I still, I have a group of students that I, I talk to well actually I it’s like a group of that.
Hugues Bertrand (12:03):
I, I, that I once in a while, I’ll, I’ll drop a message, like don’t need to respond and just, just you know, thanking them from like I on Facebook. So I get to see their life and I see what they’re doing and, you know, just kind of like tell ’em, they’re all success stories. And these are kids that I’ve like, you know, over the years, like reached out to me again with, with thank you for being there or thank you for you know, what you did for me. And you know, it’s, it’s nice to have that connection. I actually have nobody knows this , that’s cool. I have I have like a folder on my desk and it’s been like, I keep it on my desk every year. And it’s like letters or notes I’ve gotten from kids over the years.
Hugues Bertrand (12:41):
And you know, so I just know when, when you have an off day, you know, you’ll open that folder and like, you know, it sets you back. So nobody knows what that folder is, or at least now, but yeah, that’s that, that’s something for me. Like, I, I’ve been very AP very lucky, you know, I mean that the kids I always tell kids you know, not for me, but like, you know, you got to let people know, like, you know, if they made a difference in your life good or bad, you got to let them know. You know, cuz if you don’t let them know, they’ll never know that they made a difference. So, you know, yeah, I’ve been, I’ve been very, very lucky.
Sam Demma (13:12):
Yeah. Sometimes they don’t send those messages or write those letters until 20 years down the road. And I think educators sometimes, especially the younger ones who are just starting don’t realize the impact they’re having and half the purpose of this podcast is to remind them that no, what you’re doing is important, despite the challenges we’re currently facing the work is needed now more than ever. And the stories of impact do surface, maybe not right now, but they might 10, 15 years from now or when you least expect it. And I think that idea of having a folder on your desk is beautiful. Do you remember any of the letters that you recently have read?
Hugues Bertrand (13:49):
Well I had, I had one a student sent me a copy of a university paper that you were roles in sociology and it was like, you know, something shed done for in university and it was about me. So , so it was really, you know, it was I was very humbled. And, and this is someone who’s like now in their thirties with, you know, two kids, but you know, I mean, I, I, I think back I’ve done mean there’s I, you know, I guess there’s so many, like, you know, that that’s hard to pinpoint one, but they’re all, they’re all you know, they all touch me like, you know, I find it very touching, so and I, and you’re right. Like, you know, we have the power as teachers, like, you know, we can make or break a kids’ day.
Hugues Bertrand (14:33):
Like, and, and we need to remember that. Because sometimes, you know, like like kids, like you know, they, they they’re fragile even if they don’t show it. So, so, you know, we have that you know, like we, we may say something or do something that’s gonna turn off a kid completely and we might, and the worst thing is you may not notice. And then they’ll just go on you know, so good or bad. So I think we, we need to be mindful of that. You know, teaching teaching is, is an important profession and you know, and I think a lot of responsibility comes with that.
Sam Demma (15:07):
That’s so true. That’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing the story and the letters and the, the good moments. I can see the smile that you brought to your face, which is awesome. And it’s encouraging for anyone else to hear. And I love the idea. Again, if anyone’s listening, go make your own folder, we can call it the folder of appreciation or whatever you, you wanna label it and put it on your desk and put all your letters in it and revisit them. When you’re feeling down. I have a similar concept that a coach told me and it’s called that you done good list, and it’s not things that other people have given to me or said to me, but it’s things that I’m proud of that I’ve done. And when I feel like I’m not doing enough where I feel like I’m moving too slow, instead of focusing on where I want to go, I focus on where I’ve already gone, what I’ve already done, where I’ve already been, the people I’ve already impacted and met, and that change of focus leads to so much more positive decisions.
Sam Demma (15:57):
And I think it’s, it’s evident not only in education, but in all areas of life. So again, thanks for, for sharing that on a, a separate note. It’s really difficult right now to bring in powerful messages into a school. And I’m sure, or you’ve dealt with bringing in speakers for dozens of years right now. It’s harder than ever. If someone’s listening an educator that might be a little bit younger, not as wise just yet, , they’re building their wisdom. They wanna, you know, bring someone into their school to speak. How would you advise them to do so? Maybe even without COVID like, what do you look for in a person to bring in front of your students?
Hugues Bertrand (16:33):
I, I think whenever you’re gonna bring somebody in front of your student, like, you know, as one of my mentors always said, like, you have to have seen them or somebody you trust is seen them, like, so that’s school number one, like just bring in somebody just to bring somebody is the, is the bad idea. Yeah. So like you have to have like seen them or heard and, or, or somebody you trust. I seen them I think you gotta think of case this could be meaningful to my students and maybe you may find it’s really like, this is really good, but like, you know, you gotta know your students. Yeah. What, what they’re needing obviously right now it’s complicated. You know, I was, I know at school, like I was, you know, reaching out administration about maybe starting some student life this year, again, you know, and through, through the bubbles and, you know, and then the next day we have a case at school.
Hugues Bertrand (17:13):
So I’m like that didn’t get that, that fell down the list of things to do for the, for my principal by no fault of hit of his. So I think ask around, I mean, there’s some great organizations in Canada you know for, for leadership. So there’s Speakers Bureau. And so, so you can, like, you can see now with technology you can usually see clips of speakers and presenters. So like that that’s, I mean, do your homework, check it out, talk to people, ask questions you know, ask definitely there’s lots of good people to bring in like you know, kids, kids you know, they, they, sometimes you need to change it up and, and they respond you know, to somebody else, you you’d be saying the same thing, but you bring, somebody give the same message and sudden like, oh, it’s heard. But you know, by, by any means necessary, like that’s, that’s always one of, some of my mantra.
Sam Demma (18:00):
No, that’s awesome. And when it comes to speakers, what do you thinks the most important thing in relation to having impact on the students? Is it content the person shares? Is it the way they deliver it? Is it how they engage the students? Is it because it’s interactive? Is it their age?
Hugues Bertrand (18:16):
I think I’ve, I’ve been very fortunate again having been involved with leadership and, and, and going to conferences and hosting conferences. So I’ve been exposed to many, many speakers. I would say the delivery it’s not just the age. But I think the delivery, how they interact with the students is, is, is big because like, you know, you have to, you have to hook them as they, they say , but you’ll have a, it’s a mix of that, a message too, because if you have them, but then you don’t have a message or don’t deliver the message then it’s you know, once you have your attention. But I think, I think the interaction with student is, is very, very important.
Sam Demma (18:52):
Okay, cool. No, that’s awesome. And is there any plans, not, maybe not even in your school, but in other schools to do stuff virtually or is that totally out of the question?
Hugues Bertrand (19:01):
I think, I think the plan is there, the idea is there. I know I, I sit on the, our central student committee at the school board and give kids from all the, every school. And we were talking last week, you know, we usually have a senior leadership day. We have a junior leadership day and we said, well, you know, we could probably do it online you know, and bring in people. So I think the plan is there. I think it’s just right now, we’re kind of like, you know, as think cases are going up, like colors changing. So we’re just kind of like, yeah, you know, we’re gonna see where we’re gonna be with this. You know, and I think it’s one of things where we may have to adapt, but yeah, I think online for now, online speaking and is, is, is probably the way we’re gonna do this.
Sam Demma (19:38):
That’s awesome. It’s also encouraging to hear for other educators. It’s, it’s not the end, right? No, this is just a bump in the road. If someone’s listening right now, who’s a fellow educator who’s a little bit burnt out. Not maybe they just started this career. Imagine you were 23 years old and this was your first year of teaching and there was someone your age talking to you when you were 23, what would you tell that 23 year old who’s just starting in this industry?
Hugues Bertrand (20:04):
Be yourself, cuz kids will know like that’s kids kids will figure out pretty quick. So just be yourself, which I think is one of my strengths. When I talk to students that I’ve had that like, you know, what are 10 years ago, 20 years ago? You know, I’m like, you know, like, I haven’t changed. I mean, I’m, I’m more gray. I, the same haircut you, although it’s long now, but you know, like like at the same haircut I haven’t changed you know, they, they come to my classroom or if they, you know, green hackers. Yeah. That was my team when I was 16. So it’s not gonna change. You know, so like be yourself you know, be open open-minded listen, listen to them. You know kids don’t do well when you come in and just talk to them like that’s or anybody for that, for that, for that matter, don’t be shy to as for help.
Hugues Bertrand (20:51):
You know that’s that these are things that you know, but be yourself, be open-minded listen to them. You know, be fair. I think like kids will respond well to that and, and, you know, it’s, it’s a great job, but it’s not for everyone. I, and, and it’s not you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, you gotta work, you know, you gotta, I mean, I I’ve been doing this 26 years and I still, still learning every day. Like, you’re, I still screw up sometimes. You know, and, and I, and I, I’m still learning, I was talking about how I adapted everything. I’ve been adapting and changing things don’t to, to, to be successful you know, and do the job, you know, in the last year or so. So now I think you just, you just gotta, you know, keep an open mind.
Sam Demma (21:34):
Love it. Open mind, listen, twice as much as you speak, ask for help, these are all great pieces of advice. Hugues, thank you so much for taking some time to do this interview today and inspire some fellow educators. I’m curious to know if anyone in the audience wants to reach out to you and maybe bounce some ideas around that’s another educator how can they reach you in, how can they do that?
Hugues Bertrand (21:54):
Well, I don’t I, I have a, I guess email would probably be the best way. I mean, I have a Facebook page, but that’d be hard to find me, so my email probably the best way to reach me. Okay. I was gonna make a joke and say mySpace, but I don’t even know what that is. So it has to be pretty old. So yeah, email@example.com is probably the best way to reach me through email. And then we can go from there. I don’t have a website or anything, although you know so that, that’s probably the best way to reach me.
Sam Demma (22:24):
Okay. Awesome. Here again. Thank you so much, so much wisdom, so much to share, and I really appreciate you making some time. Oh, you’re welcome. I hope you enjoyed the episode with Hugues Bertrand so much practical advice and ideas to share. Please reach out to Hugues. He’d love to hear from you. He loves connecting with fellow educators and teachers like yourself. And as always, if you took something away from these interviews, if you’re taking something away from them and you’re learning something new, consider leaving a rating review. So more educators just like you can find this content and benefit from it. And if you have insightful stories or inspiring ideas that we can use in schools right now, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. So we can get you on the show and share those stories with your colleagues. Talk soon, see you on the next episode.
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