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Shop class is a little different at Phoenix

Brianne Gale tries to create good citizens using saws, sandpaper and screwdrivers
Shop teacher Brianne Gale shows a Grade 8 Phoenix student how to propertly clamp and cut a piece of driftwood

Brianne Gale teaches shop at École Phoenix Middle School, but that’s not all she’s teaching.

She loves teaching shop. You can see it in her eyes while she explains to a student why the band saw isn’t the best tool for a particular job they want to do or helps a student figure out how to attach the sandpaper to the hand-sander.

To her, however, what’s more important than the technical skills they will take away from their time with her is that when they leave the room, they go off to be good people.

“If a kid comes out of here with a whistle that doesn’t whistle, but they’ve learned something about how to communicate with others, and how to be good, then I’ve still done my job,” she says, smiling, before excusing herself from the discussion, yet again, to help a young girl clamp a piece of driftwood properly.

And another one needs help with the chop saw.

The students are working on their “legacy projects,” right now, which is part of Gale’s theory that they should be using their learning to do good things within the community and around the world.

This round of Grade 8 legacy projects are giant toys and boardgames for the school’s courtyard – think about the chessboards at April Point and Heriot Bay over on Quadra for a frame of reference, if you’ve ever been to one of those resorts. Last semester they made toys for donation to the Laichwiltach Family Life Society, Rose Harbour and the Foursquare Community Church. The group before that made wooden cars for the kids in a women’s shelter in Guatemala.

They’ve also made benches that will be put outside the school at the bus loop – once they figure out how they can go about attaching them to the ground. Oh, and Gale has brought in a bunch of concrete mix so they can make stepping stones and pathways for neighbourhood gardens and courtyards.

“These projects, hopefully, teach them to give back when you have the opportunity to make a difference. Basically, when they leave my class, I want them to go off and be a positive influence in the world.”

Now in her second year of teaching, Gale admits it wasn’t always her plan. She’s always been handy, loved working with her hands, and wanted to work in the trades, but she realized pretty quickly while she was training to be a carpenter, “that being outside in the freezing cold, doing framing, wasn’t exactly what I wanted be doing.”

So she went into the Technology Teacher Education program at BCIT so she could keep working with the tools she loved, but pass her love for that work onto others, as well.

So now she does just that.

And she loves it. She loves the freedom that comes with the job, and she loves the creativity she can help foster in the kids.

Sure, there’s a binder of ideas over in the corner and a wall of templates the students can use if they’re stuck for an idea, but most of the time, Gale says, they come up with an idea on their own, and she helps to make that idea into a reality.

“I think it’s good to keep it as open as you can so they can really be creative,” she says.

Like their upcoming driftwood projects, where the class went down to the beach to find a piece of driftwood to make something out of.

That’s another facet of what she’s teaching, which feeds right into her messaging of being a good person for the planet – making better use of the resources available to us.

One thing Gale felt was lacking when she was studying at BCIT was the whole, “where does this stuff come from and how can we make use of it more efficiently and effectively?” aspect, so she’s incorporating some of that into her class, as well.

“We talk about sustainability, and how unsustainable it is to just keep buying  a bunch of wood, cutting off whatever you need and throwing the rest away. I encourage them to go to the scrap bin first before going to the wood rack. That’s a tree that had to die for us to make use of it, after all. It is a renewable resource, but only if it’s managed properly.”

To that end, they also go on field trips out into the woods with tree planters and foresters to see how the material they are using comes to be on the rack at the back of the class.

A student goes bustling by us with a huge wad of paper towel dripping with a red liquid. Thankfully, it’s paint from the project he’s working on that he’s been cleaning up. But it brings up another subject.

How stressful is it to be trying to manage a class of 30 middle school kids using a room full of power tools?

Gale says while she certainly has to be on the ball, she’s confident that have the skills they need to use the equipment safely. It’s not that she has to have the proverbial “eyes in the back of her head.” It’s more like she needs to be confident that she doesn’t have to be everywhere at once.

“When I’m looking in one direction working with someone, I have to believe that the people behind me are acting responsibly,” she says. “I haven’t had any accidents in here – other than a few little scrapes or stuff that a Band-Aid can fix – because I make sure safety stuff is done at the beginning, and thoroughly, and they all write tests on it before they can use any of the equipment.”

So they’re safe, they’re learning some technical skills, and they’re learning about how to be a positive influence on the world.

And that sounds perfect to Gale.

“I think you have an opportunity in teaching to not just teach the skill of the class, but to also teach life skills. I think that’s really what teaching is about,” she says before tossing her safety glasses back on and heading back out into the controlled chaos to help another student find the tool they need.


Shop teacher Brianne Gale listens to a Grade 8 Phoenix student talk about her plans for her driftwood project. While she loves teaching the skills needed to create things, however, Gale is mainly hoping her students going off to be good global citizens.


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