Expansion good news for teachers

Consider, for a moment, Ontario’s newly certified teachers and, if you don’t already, you’ll soon realize there’s an imbalance in the system.

While the province is producing a good amount of teachers, job opportunities and applications to BEd programs across the province have been declining, with the latter at a rate of nearly 10 per cent in the last year alone.

The provincial government, however, in an attempt to balance its books, is likewise trying to correct the above discrepancy. While details aren’t set in stone, the Liberals plan to lengthen teacher education programs by one year, stretching the same amount of funding over two years while graduating half as many teachers for one year and saving at least 6,000 candidates from a tough job market.

Western officials say that’s good news for all teacher-education programs across Ontario, including Western’s Faculty of Education, which currently offers one of the provinces shortest BEd programs.

With an intake and correspondent output of roughly 700 teacher candidates each year, Western’s Faculty of Education will move ahead with the province’s recommendation for a lengthened BEd program in September 2014, said Margaret McNay, associate dean for undergraduate and preservice programs.

The upcoming changes are good news for all teacher candidates across the province, who, according to McNay, are currently entering the classroom environment having to face multiple new challenges teachers in the past didn’t have to deal with – ones today’s candidates may not have been exposed to during their practicums.

“I wouldn’t want to suggest in any way that teachers currently aren’t properly prepared for the classroom. But the challenges of teaching are such that we could so much better prepare teachers for what they have to face than we can in eight months now,” she said.

McNay explained a diverse classroom that includes children with varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds, children with learning and physical abilities or difficult home lives or emotional obstacles, poses many challenges to all teachers, much less those who, as recent graduates, don’t have much experience.

“It might not be in their job description but it is the teachers’ job to care for the safety and well-being of all children in the classroom. A lot is asked of teachers today and if they spend a little longer in the Faculty of Education, we can do a little more than we currently do to provide the knowledge and strategies to address these issues,” McNay explained. “Better educated, better prepared teachers, overall, will have a good effect in the community.”

With preparations for a lengthened BEd, Western’s program will be on equal footing with other teacher education programs in Ontario. But the Faculty of Education is also looking at additional ways to make itself stand out in the province, McNay added.

“There are a number of ways we can make our program unique and make it particularly interesting to candidates. We are particularly strong in early years education, and we have Fanshawe College nearby that produces early childhood educators. We’re talking about what we can do together in terms of offering a special focus on early years education,” she explained.

“We also have a strong focus on equity and social justice issues in this faculty and a strong interest in building a focus on mental health issues in schools. A lot isn’t known about what the ministry will want to see in this lengthened program, but we might want to highlight these as part of ours.”

The lengthened program, producing half as many teachers across the province in its first round of graduates, coupled with some of the above changes, could boost opportunities for Western and its BEd graduates. Applicants, tapering off for now, may increase down the road, McNay also said.

“We still have lots of applicants, but the number of applications has been declining 9-10 per cent a year for a number of years now. First, they climb, and then they fall. And no doubt, within a few years, the number will start to rise again,” she said, noting that government policies, demographics and the economy play a role in application fluctuation.

“Applications to faculties of education probably won’t increase significantly until the economy improves and jobs improve,” McNay added.

While the London District Catholic School Board is cutting 127 teachers this year, the Thames Valley School Board (TVDSB) in London may, after a year that saw no growth or layoffs in full-time positions, hire a number of new elementary teachers.

“Because of retirements and full-day kindergarten, we’re hopeful that this coming year, there will be some hiring in the elementary panel. But, we should be able to hold our own in the secondary (panel),” said Richard Hoffman of the TVDSB, adding the exact number of available positions has yet to be determined. “We’re in that period which we’re accepting retirement applications so the dust hasn’t settled. Nothing official can be said until a report to the board is made.”

As traditional avenues dry up, teacher candidates are finding new avenues to employment, McKay noted.

“In the meantime, we’re also finding more of our candidates are interested in jobs outside classroom. And there are many kinds of jobs – overseas, in industry, business and the public sector for people who know something about planning a curriculum and staff development. A degree in education is helpful for a number of jobs.”