Letters to the Editor

Professionally Speaking welcomes letters and articles on topics of interest to teachers. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and to conform to our publication style. To be considered for publication, letters must provide the writer’s daytime phone number. Address letters to: The Editor, Professionally Speaking at ps@oct.ca or 101 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 0A1.

Technology: too much too soon?

I was interested but also dismayed to read your article about the use of technology in our classrooms (Tricks for Tweets, December 2011). While there were some exciting ideas presented, there was a painful lack of critical thought or alternative perspectives. It was disturbing to see a photo of Grade 1 students so engaged with their DSs that no human eye contact or interaction was occurring. (I know this was only a snapshot, but the image seemed symbolic.)

I am not opposed to the use of technology. However, I often worry that as an education system we can be swept along by societal changes and, in an attempt to “catch up,” we fail to raise some critical questions or lead debate.

The research of Michael Rich at Harvard Medical School has raised significant concerns about how excessive computer use — particularly video games — affects childhood health. Is it appropriate for the education field to simply leap into this “because children are already using these technologies”? We know that when children read books their brains are widely active across several areas. We know that when we teach mathematics with physical manipulatives there is a similarly wide range of intellectual activity. We need studies that delve into the relative effects of the use of computers. Is there a difference between learning from a face on a screen and a face on a person in front of you?

Again, I am not against computers. I would simply like to see more debate and discussion about the when, why, how and how much. As we look to new ways to teach various subjects with computers, we need to also ask ourselves whether this learning is really better.

Skot Caldwell, OCT, teaches Grade 1 at Centennial PS in Kingston.

Reduce the supply of new teachers

Over the last 10 years there has been a consistent backlog of teachers (as noted in the Transition to Teaching study). Significantly lower retirement and increased graduates and immigration have resulted in a supply that is over twice the demand. I do not think retirees are the issue.

My cohort had a 100 per cent graduation rate, and I have heard consistent stories among other cohorts. In my experience, too many institutes are graduating far too many new teacher graduates. This inflation is only increasing the backlog of teachers and could be watering down the quality of our profession. It is my opinion that we need to stop accepting every student who is applying, as in 2010 we received 12,500 applicants and accepted and graduated approximately 9,000. York University graduated 97.7 per cent of its education students, highest of all programs and well above the 67.7 per cent average graduation rate. Other universities are no different.

It may be necessary to increase entrance requirements to a BEd and start reducing graduation rates or possibly removing consecutive programs. Competition breeds excellence, but we are simply choking excellent teachers out of the profession by turning our institutions into degree factories.

Darrell Stoddart , OCT, is a professor of community studies at Georgian College in Barrie.

Foreign exchange

The best way to learn a foreign language is in an immersion environment. While language teachers may try to replicate this via field trips, nothing can compare to day-to-day life as a means of acquiring a practical and intuitive understanding of a language.

As a retired languages teacher and department head, I am now involved with the Canadian Education Exchange Foundation (CEEF) in a volunteer capacity. CEEF organizes student exchanges between Canada and several western European countries. Taking the example of France, Canadian students are matched with students from France. The French students visit Canada for three months, living with their partners and host families, attending school, sightseeing and actively participating in our North American lifestyle. This is reciprocated when the Canadian students visit France for three months. There is also a one-month summer exchange to Spain and France.

As a volunteer, I visit high schools to inform students and teachers about the CEEF exchange program. The presentation takes about 35 minutes. While many teachers welcome the opportunity to introduce their students to this potentially life-changing experience, others feel that their curriculum is a higher priority, and that they could not possibly spare the time. This seems a very short-sighted perspective, since travel can serve as a mind-expanding experience at least as valuable as the classroom.

In fact, exchange programs can benefit the schools as well as the participants. Exchange students interact with the local students and teachers and provide a European perspective. At my former school, for instance, we had a meet and greet so that interested students could meet and interact socially with the European visitors. This was always well received.

Therefore, for all the benefits derived, I think that language teachers should support student exchanges, in terms of both the enhanced language skills and the personal development that can result.

Another positive result for language teachers might well be increased enrolment in their courses. The longer we can keep students in our language classes, the better prepared they will be to compete in the global community.

Bonnie Lilien , OCT, is retired from Don Mills Collegiate where she taught French, English and Special Education and was Assistant Curriculum Leader for the Language Department.

Property values

I guess the more you say the phrase, “We need to absorb a small increase today in order to reduce our financial pressure in years to come,” the more you will tend to believe the propaganda. That’s right, buy a property on one of the most expensive streets in Ontario and delude oneself in believing this was done for the common good. Why not buy in a city, for example Oshawa, where property values are significantly less than in the heart of downtown Toronto?

The other piece of dysfunctional logic the College uses to justify the purchase is that other teacher federations and regulators have opted to own their buildings. So let’s buy property you don’t need to perform your duties. By the way, did these federations and regulators buy with a mandate by their respective members?

Max Rittner, OCT, is retired and working as an occasional teacher for the Toronto DSB.