Teaching: A World View
Popular Profession: Teaching in Canada
Canadian schools are picky about who gets to teach.
Cereita Goulbourne always thought she might like to teach, but she wanted some life experiences first. So after graduating from McMaster University in Hamilton, an industrial city on the western shore of Lake Ontario, she worked a few jobs in tech and dabbled in film. Her credits include working on the crew of American Pyscho II.
After half a dozen years, she decided she was ready. But first she had to go back to school. In addition to undergraduate degrees, Canadian teachers must also earn an education degree through one of about 50 programs at universities around the country. Teaching is a popular profession; only about one in five applicants is accepted according to the National Center for Education and the Economy, an American think tank. There were so many students hoping to become teachers in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, that the provincial government extended the program from one to two years.
Once accepted, aspiring teachers choose a concentration based on the age of students they’d like to teach: Primary/ junior, junior/intermediate or intermediate/senior. Primary is junior kindergarten through grade three (in Canada it’s grade 3, not third grade); junior is grades four through six; intermediate is grades seven through 10; and senior is grades 10 through 12.
Public school teachers and principals also have to get certified through the Ontario College of Teachers, a self governing licensing board, although sometimes a local board of education will declare a shortage in a particular teaching area and can hire uncertified teachers. (This sometimes happens with French programs in officially bilingual Canada; Ontario students are required to take French from grades four through eight and earn at least one French class credit in high school.)
Goulbourne began her teaching career at a French immersion school in Peel, a fastgrowing area just outside of Toronto, after earning her bachelor’s of education. After a few years, she switched to teaching core French at a standard elementary school.
Last year, though, Goulbourne took a job teaching grade 5 language arts and social studies at a school in Mississauga, a Toronto suburb of more than 700,000.
As in Florida, school crowding is a flashpoint in southern Ontario. The province’s Conservative Party premier Doug Ford, a populist elected last year after 15 years of Liberal Party rule, has proposed lifting class-size caps — from 23 to 24 for grades 4 through 8 and from 22 to 28 for grades nine through 12. The kindergarten and primary caps, 29 and 23, respectively, wouldn’t change.
That will be a battle, though. “That’s something our unions fought very hard for,” Goulbourne says.
Teachers unions are powerful forces in Canadian politics. Every teacher in Ontario belongs to one of four unions, depending upon whether they teach in elementary, secondary, Catholic or French-language schools. They pay mandatory dues that are deducted from their school board’s payroll, and their collective bargaining agreements cover both teaching load and class size.
In part because the unions are so strong, Canadian teacher salaries compare favorably with those of other countries. In Ontario, teacher salaries range from $52,000 to $98,500, depending on credentials and experience. And it doesn’t take long to reach the upper level; teachers typically need only between 12 and 15 years to reach the top of the grid.
Goulbourne says one area where her school excels is in student support. That’s important because the schools are diverse. More than half the population of Mississauga speaks a language other than English, and more than half are minorities. The city is home to Canada’s largest Sikh population. In 2014, researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based Learning Policy Institute found no significant achievement gap between immigrants and non-immigrants in Canada.
“I’m just so impressed with the support — the special-ed programs, our ESL programs,” says Goulbourne, who adds that her school also organizes fundraising drives to help buy extra supplies for students. Teachers generally pay for supplies out of their own pocket. “There are some families that need support financially, and I’ve just really found that Peel has a lot of initiatives for kids that are coming to school so they can focus on learning.”
Education in Canada
Canadian provinces, which have more autonomy than U.S. states, operate their own ministries of education, each run by an appointee of the province’s elected premier (equivalent to governor). The education ministries are responsible for setting curricula and standards, regulating teacher certification and distributing funding. Some provinces, including Ontario, also provide substantial funding to religious schools. In Ontario, home to about one-third of Canada’s population, teachers must first earn undergraduate degrees and then win admission to faculties of education, where they obtain a separate bachelor’s of education degree, a process that typically takes four semesters or about two years. Teachers and principals are hired and fired by locally elected school boards.
Read more in our June issue.
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