College survey provides facts to challenge profession's critics

Knowing what motivates teachers and what prevents them from doing their best work is important. The first survey of College members debunks the myths and challenges the profession's naysayers.


by Doug Wilson

Newspapers don't find inspiration for great headlines from the re-dedication of open-air quadrangles in high schools. But for proof of teachers' dedication to students, I'm reminded of the power of a simple ceremony and the efforts of a few teachers at Pickering High School.

A recent visit to the school where I began as a teacher and later served as vice-principal also gave me pause to reflect on our survey of College members.

Working with students and community businesses, Pickering teachers turned a dormant, unused area into an attractive, practical and environmentally sensitive relaxation spot, improving the learning environment overall and creating a space to augment lessons in science and geography.

If you've ever stood behind students with smiles so big you could spell A-C-C-O-M-P-L-I-S-H-M-E-N-T on their teeth, you'll know why the teachers acted to alter the school. They did it out of a selfless and single-minded devotion to their students and to good learning.

Teachers come to the profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of others. They teach because they can. They do not choose teaching as a default because they can't do something else and they don't choose it for the holidays, the money, the security or any of the pervasive, misleading reasons lobbed in general criticisms of the profession or its practitioners. It was teachers' unbridled dedication to students that came across clearly in the College/COMPAS survey.

According to the poll, four out of five teachers say that the best part of teaching is mentoring and inspiring young people. Contributing to the cognitive and social development of their students inspires teachers. They want to help students grow to become productive citizens. And they do an excellent job of preparing kids to be problem solvers, lifelong learners and successful adults.

How they derive their job satisfaction is clear - as are the obstacles that prevent it.

Objections to standardized tests are no surprise. Educators feel that a label of failure that performance on a single test can affix to a student, teacher or school isn't fair or accurate. Would a doctor diagnose an illness or disease based on a single test? Of course not. It's also perfectly understandable that those who are focused on helping students achieve bridle at the conflict within the system itself. They want the resources to do the job right and the confidence of parents, the media and the public to trust that they know what to do.

One of the difficulties with teaching is that those who do it well make it look absolutely effortless. They create the impression that anyone could do it. The classroom looks organized; the kids are well mannered and managed; the teacher stands and delivers without distraction. What people don't see are the hours spent beyond the classroom planning, preparing lessons and units, gathering supplies, nailing down specific instructional strategies. Experience helps, sure. But each day is different. Each lesson varies.

It's also logical that teachers have high regard for their colleagues as primary sources of help and information. Their colleagues understand the pressures of the work inside and outside the classroom. They understand how difficult it can be to meet the individual needs of students, and how important it is. They commiserate with the periods of high stress and the natural cycles - such as reporting to parents - in the life of a school.

The survey results tell me that the majority of teachers are in the right job for the right reasons. And I believe that the greatest value the survey itself provides is to debunk demoralizing myths and counter education's critics with facts.

Forget costly public relations campaigns. There are examples of teachers' dedication to students in classrooms and schools right across this province. Some are physical, as in the Pickering High School quadrangle. More are in the minds and hearts of the students themselves.

We didn't need a survey to tell us that. But having it proves to the public what we've been saying all along and what teachers know in their hearts to be true.

I made a decision more than 35 years ago to get into teaching because I believed I could help others. The survey shows that others enter the profession with that same ambition.

Few thoughts are so comforting.