Despite numbers, non-traditional options abound

In the latest issue of Professionally Speaking, the magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers, Frank McIntyre explores the options – or perhaps, a lack thereof – available to new and recent graduates of Ontario’s teacher education programs.

In the article, titled Now What?, McIntyre says that, “The combined unemployment and underemployment rate for first-year teachers (that is, members of the Ontario College of Teachers for the first year following graduation) has climbed from 30 per cent back in 2006 to 67 per cent today. And the unemployment rate increased tenfold, from 3 to 30 per cent.”

And looking for work outside Ontario hasn’t been a huge success for some candidates, McIntyre notes, stating roughly 19 per cent of first-year teachers searched for teaching positions outside Ontario and abroad last year, while only 10 per cent reported they were teaching outside the province by the year’s end.

With reasons for the decline in teacher employment rates varying from policy, a tough economy to shifting demographics, some teacher candidates are refining the job hunt, looking for alternate avenues to employment following the completion of their BEd.

So, what options are available to those who stray from the commonly perceived narrow path of public education?

According to Matt Bazely, director of practicum at Western’s Faculty of Education, there are plenty of options for candidates looking for atypical employment following graduation from a teacher education program in Ontario.

What’s more, it’s wrong to assume who everyone who graduates actually plans to work in the public school system.

“Even in good (economic) times, not everyone who does a BEd goes on to teach, not everybody goes or wants that route,” Bazely said, noting the options former Faculty of Education grads have pursued, still available today, fall into three categories – teaching in province, across Canada and abroad.

For those who want to stay in Ontario, one employment option is privately funded schools.

“This year, we have one individual who is doing a placement in a Christian school and never planned on working in the public school system. We see that happen – there are people who want to work in a school that serves a religious community,” Bazely explained, adding that schools in Northern Ontario present a lot of opportunities to new teacher candidates as well.

“There is a great demand for teachers up North and lots of options for people who want that kind of adventure or lifestyle. The Cree school board came to recruit in December (2011) and told us they cannot fill the number of positions they have,” he said, noting roughly 10 per cent of graduates pursue this option.

Another ‘domestic’ option – one within Ontario – is employment at alternative schools such as Boundless High School in the Ottawa Valley. Boundless stresses outdoor education and serves vulnerable and at-risk communities from all walks of life, including youth in the criminal justice system, expelled students, victims of violence, individuals suffering from mental illness and adults with brain injuries.

Boundless hired four Western graduates last year and another two this year, Bazely said.

What’s more, teaching outside Ontario, especially in Western provinces where traditional job opportunities are not as scarce, is also an option, he added.

“With the labour mobility agreement, candidates can teach across Canada. The only caveat is, because we have the shortest program in Canada, you can have conditional hiring and (grads) might have to do extra qualification courses,” he said.

“Graduates aren’t stuck in Ontario where (the job market) is perhaps most competitive.”

Finally, an enormous shortage of teachers abroad means there is no shortage of job opportunities for those willing to pursue them, Bazely explained.

“At the Kuwait Canadian bilingual school, there are seven Western grads working. Two more are going there this year, and it’s an example of teaching both expat kids and Kuwaitis,” he said, adding several countries hire a lot of our teacher candidates.

“Recruitment agencies come from England, Australia and New Zealand also come and hire teachers for public-funded education in their countries. England is big – 12 grads were hired last year by a company called Engage and seven hired this year – with another round of interviews coming.”

The other international option is teaching ESL in Korea or China, and many teacher candidates at Western have already done this, Bazely added.

“There are a lot of professional options. The public understanding of a BEd is that it’s a linear pathway to the public school system but a (BEd) is a gateway to a number of options – it is an academic credential that can open up all kinds of doors.”