Sunday, April 4, 2010

On teaching

I must say I was honestly surprised to have ruffled as many feathers as I apparently did over the past few weeks when writing about the realities of the job market for teaching in Ontario.
It started late March, as one of the local boards I cover released a statistical report on its hiring for the fall of 2009. Depressing numbers, in a board with almost 8,000 employees, that so few were hired, and virtually none hired to full-time permanent contracts. But such is the reality, as highlighted by every year's survey as completed by the Ontario College of Teachers-- the most recent is in the latest edition of their members' magazine. The quote that caused concern?
"This concerns me, working in a faculty of education, we're producing 700 grads every year and this is discouraging for them," (Thames Valley District School Board) London trustee and University of Western Ontario faculty Peter Jaffe said.
(Executive superintendent of human resources services Mike) Sereda responded his creative advice for those folks or others would be to seek other options before education.
"There's a glut in the market and there will be for some time. If you're really committed to teaching, go overseas," Sereda said. "There are a large number of teachers chasing a small number of jobs and that won't change in the near future."
As happens in our chain from time-to-time, the story was picked up by the Free Press in London and on the day it published there I received a call from University of Western Ontario faculty of education dean Julia O'Sullivan's office, requesting an interview. I never turn down an interview, so we chatted, along with associate dean Margaret McNay, about the teachers' shortage shortage of teaching jobs.
The deans were upset with the lead paragraph, which they insisted misrepresents the reality. O'Sullivan pointed to how there are still plenty (in the millions) of teachers needed to provide basic primary education to every child around the world. They spoke a lot about how their graduates are finding success in overseas employment, or those willing to go remote or north to seek jobs. For those who stick around, the faculty is attempting to cater to their interests by offering more course sections in those areas where teachers have a better probability of getting full-time contracts (French-language, technological education). The ensuing article ran a few days later, and I haven't noticed whether it was picked up by other sister papers.
Local statistics show, however, that the majority of teachers hired by local boards -- even to the supply teaching or part-time contracts that dominate available positions -- are UWO grads. The numbers don't correlate to the numbers who graduate on an annual basis, but that doesn't change the overall need for qualified teachers, O'Sullivan and McNay said.
"We're very conscious that for many graduates, while teaching locally may be their first choice, they're happy to do so internationally, or north, or west before they get that dream job at a school in London," McNay said. "They're willing to go elsewhere and they want to take advantage of their Bachelor of Education to travel."
The ladies deans insisted their candidates are well aware of the job prospects for this calling within Ontario and even the broader domestic market. They don't track this with any sort of authority though, so I would anecdotally respond that I seriously doubt that to be true. Though overall applications to teachers' college are down (see the OCT survey), there are still plenty of people applying to become a part of this profession. I would say there are very few who dream of teaching in the north, or in Sweden, or elsewhere when they cough up their application fee and start searching for references for supplemental application forms. They're dreaming of working locally, or at least regionally.
The deans also seemed to suggest I really didn't understand this issue-- well, as a journalist, I think I understand it perfectly well as that's another craft where thousands leave post-secondary programs with a piece of paper in their hands that says journalism yet have no hope of working in the field. That was the case 10 years ago (yikes, has it been that long already?) when I walked across a dias to collect my own piece of paper, and it's only gotten starker since then. That doesn't stop an almost endless supply of positions in rural western Canada or the north to work at some small community paper where you're the editor, reporter, photographer and even part-time sales rep working endless hours for a pittance and on a quick path to burnout...  So yeah, I get it.
Given the absolute surplus of available talent, it's time, really, for teachers' colleges in Ontario to consider cutting back enrolment, or catering more of it to the candidates who apply with a desire to seek the teaching positions where they actually exist.


RetDir said...

The "ladies"? Let's stick to Deans, since their analysis, while flawed, isn't base on their gender, ER. Two thoughts - the millions of teachers that may be needed make peanuts compared to Ontario teachers, so they are not really training for the global market - I doubt any of their graduates are really looking for jobs in rural India, China, or Africa at $100/yr, which are the bulk of the jobs she is talking about. The underlying reality is that Faculties have no reason to lessen the numbers of students they accept, since if they do then they shed Faculty jobs, grants, and the faculty shrinks. At the same time, to be fair to them, there is no shortage of people who want to get qualified to the extent that they spend a lot of time and $$$ in Buffalo or Australia to do so. It is, however, a bizzare argument that a whole lot of the candidates are interested in going to foreign lands to teach, although perhaps that's because it is where most of their graduates end up.
It's also interesting that they believe their graduates are preferred in the local job market. Apart from possible local connections, UWO has a horrible reputation amongst people who hire - Brock, Windsor, Queens (especially the concurrent program with Trent), and above all Nippissing have much stronger programs, and principals will preferably hire from them unless there is a local connection.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sticking to your guns ER!

Those "ladies" are about at full of it as it gets and more concerned it seems for the PR optics than the truth.

How wonderful that UWO is supplying the world with educators, but when it comes to Ontario, seriously reality just doesn't come to mind in the quotes coming from the ladies.

That you rec'd an invitation based on your column means you did your job and told the story just perfectly!

Your subsequent article didn't get to the LFP that I saw.


Education Reporter said...

No offense meant and point taken. Correction made.

It may be the program isn't as well regarded by those hiring (which I've also heard), but that line actually comes from local hiring stats. The Thames Valley and London District Catholic boards hire more UWO grads most years than from elsewhere. Don't know if the same story applies to other boards nearby (ie: Huron-Perth / Avon Maitland, Bluewater, Lambton-Kent, etc.).

I completely agree with all your points however. It does us all a disservice these faculties are not adjusting more seriously to the job market. All the teachers' college students I've ever met (very anecdotal, I know) want to work locally or at least in this region. Teaching overseas is a distant second, third or fourth choice. Other fields and careers become the standby careers until they can get on a supply list.

In my own attempt (I turned down a spot in Ottawa two weeks prior to the start of classes in 2005-06 after sitting on a waitlist all summer), I even tried to trend to the need-- guy, ethnic, wanting to work primary-junior, etc. in recognition of where the demand was.

Which is frustrating when, again, anecdotally, I've continually heard from many that they learned so little in-course during teachers' college. With the bar set so high for entry, students already have lots of experience in classroom and non-classroom teaching settings before day one. The practicums continue to be the continual source of what works.

All of which neglects the fact that it's possible in many boards to earn more in a school year doing daily supply than in a permanent contract. The daily rate is nothing too shabby. But aside the whole retiree question, with fewer contract positions available, it also restricts openings to supply lists.

Lastly, and this is not unique to teaching, but with all these dynamics at play it's hard for a good, unknown candidate to make things happen. People waiting for contracts are supplying. People supplying are relying on connections (family or otherwise) to get the work. For all I know, "teaching is a family profession" are some of the magic words needed to get a teachers' college spot, and get used from that point forward to secure employment.

The supply-demand issue is just one of many things that need fixing with teacher education in this province...


Anonymous said...

Just this weekend a new teacher in our family. Someone who has a Master's Degree told us that she is not going to be taking any more professional development training for FTE in things and methods she'll never be able to practice any time soon.

She is getting some odd supply jobs but finds that working towards a FTE job when none exists a poor use of her time and her degree.

She's spending the summer looking out of province.

Unknown said...

I'm about to enter the Faculty of Education (OISE): I'm a woman, have a MA, and will be looking to teach technical subjects. My teachables are Math and Computer Studies. I'm also teaching general interest courses for the TDSB. I'm worried that I might not have work when I leave. I'm doing my best to network, but do you (or another reader) have advice for me for when I do exit school? I'm planning for next summer, jobs are slim, as I've heard.

I love reading your blog, by the way.