Success, Stress & Optimism

The second year of the College's five-year study of teacher education graduates brought more than 750 resonses from 2001 graduates and more than 950 from 2002 graduating classes from Ontario faculties of education and the six New York State colleges that recruit Ontarians to their programs. Approximately 60 per cent of graduating students were sent questionnaires in order to provide a reliable portrait of new teachers' entry to the profession in Ontario. Twenty-five per cent of 2001 graduates and 30 per cent of 2002 graduates responded.

By Frank McIntyre

Despite a hot market – with many school boards replacing large numbers of retiring teachers and persistent shortages in science, math, technology and French – stress levels remain high among recent graduates as they seek secure, stable and appropriate teaching assignments.

Most 2002 graduates succeeded in finding teaching jobs in 2002-2003, echoing the success of those who joined the profession a year earlier. In surveys of both 2001 and 2002 graduates, teachers reported on their first, subsequent and current teaching jobs. As of March 2003, more than 93 per cent of first-year graduates were teaching, with about 55 per cent of them in regular teaching positions, 25 per cent in long-term occasional roles and 15 per cent as supply teachers.

Occasional teaching continues to be the entry route for a significant number of teachers, even in this favourable Ontario job market. Daily occasional teaching roles were the initial access point for 23 and 30 per cent of the 2001 and 2002 graduates respectively. For 2001 graduates, seven per cent now report daily occasional teaching as their current job status, while the figure for 2002 graduates has dropped to 15 per cent.

A steady movement into regular teaching positions is evident in the change for the 2001 graduates from 53 per cent first-entry regular teaching positions to 79 per cent reporting regular positions by the end of their second year in the profession. One second-year teacher recalled her experience upon graduation:

"I gave my resume to the principal of a school in June following graduation, supplied for the same principal in September, was called for a long-term occasional position on October 15, and a regular full-time position became available in December."

Change and Insecurity

Despite such positive employment outcomes, uncertainty and insecurity abound for new teachers. Confusion regarding hiring process, late hiring, mid-year moves from one classroom to another, and piecing together part-time jobs to make up a full teaching load are stories told by many respondents.

One first-year teacher recalled, "Each board has their own hiring process, and you get very confused." Another noted, "It is highly stressful and competitive, and the interview process seemed so rushed when it finally happened."

"I was hired in the second-last week of August and was bumped through four different grade level positions before school started. These changes were not voluntary, but they did end up changing my status from long-term occasional to regular status."

Among first-year teachers, only 35 per cent report they were hired by the end of July for the school year beginning in September. Another 12 per cent were recruited in August, 22 per cent in September, and the remaining 30 per cent in October or later. Many pointed to frustrations with how the system appears to work against timely hiring decisions. As one respondent said, "Obtaining a job was hard because my district school board has budget problems that led to late recruitment."

Even among the 35 per cent fortunate enough to have firm jobs more than a month before the start of the school year, many noted that they did not know their actual grade or classroom assignment until near the start of the school year. Some lamented the loss of valuable planning and preparation time.

Early employment experience is also marked by considerable change of assignments. More than half of first-year teachers anticipate a job change for their second year. This anticipation seems realistic as more than half of second-year teachers reported a change in assignment (21 per cent), schools (23 per cent) or school boards (12 per cent) between their first and second year. Looking ahead, 37 per cent of second-year teachers group anticipate further change before their third year.

Some must also face the challenge of patching together a full teaching load with combinations of part-time regular and long-term occasional assignments, or even daily occasional assignments from two or more school boards.

Stress Widespread

High stress levels are widespread among first-year teachers. Thirty-nine per cent give stress the highest ranking, with 71 per cent choosing one of the top two levels in the survey’s four-point scale. Twenty per cent noted a high sense of job insecurity and a further 25 per cent reported insecurity as somewhat high. Some identified stress around teaching assignments for which they are not well resourced and prepared.

"It is very hectic and expensive to teach a combined class, with very limited classroom resources. I had to purchase 35 books for book study."

Many were confident that they are coping with the stress of their assignments and the political environment they find themselves in.

"I was extremely nervous as I entered the Intermediate division as a Primary-Junior teacher. However, I couldn’t be more happy. This has been and continues to be an amazing and rewarding experience.

"Amidst the stress of the politics of teaching, I would not choose any other career. The students make my job worthwhile and provide motivation for me."

The experience of second-year teachers may provide their newer colleagues with hope for the future. About half of those surveyed in their second year report less stress, although 23 per cent say they are more stressed. Similarly, feelings of job security tend to improve over time. Forty per cent say that they feel more secure in their second year, while 22 per cent report greater insecurity.

Moving to Optimism

The 2003 survey returns convey that, despite problems, there are many rewards. On a four-point satisfaction rating scale, 36 per cent of first-year and 47 per cent ofsecond-year teachers chose the top category. Only 16 per cent of first-year teachers and 14 per cent of second-year teachers indicated dissatisfaction with their career to date, selecting the lower half of the satisfaction scale. Many reported a high degree of enthusiasm for their chosen career.

"It’s tough work and a lot of work, inside and outside the classroom. You have to love it. Good thing that I do. Can’t wait for next year.

"I’m having the time of my life and have never been happier in a career. I’m never bored, which is fabulous."

Good preparation and appropriate matches of assignment to education qualifications may be key contributors to professional satisfaction.

Fifty-four per cent of first-year teachers describe the match of their qualifications to assignment as excellent, as do 53 per cent of second-year teachers.

Only 16 per cent of first-year teachers and 15 per cent of second-year teachers describe the match as fair or poor.

Among teachers with regular employment contracts, the match is even stronger.

Sixty per cent of first-year teachers and 55 per cent of second-year teachers describe the match as excellent.

When asked about their teacher education as preparation for the classroom, 75 per cent first-year teachers chose the positive half of a four-point scale.

Almost two-thirds selected the top of the scale regarding satisfaction with their teacher education practicum as preparation for teaching.

Only six per cent said their teacher education was unsatisfactory.

Nearly four in 10 expressed a high level of confidence in their teaching skills, with fewer than one in seven reporting low or somewhat low confidence levels.

Classroom experience appears to have a major impact on perceptions of competence and preparedness for the challenges of teaching.

Eighty-five per cent of second-year teachers report that they are more confident than in their first year.

Sixty-six per cent say they are more prepared for the classroom in their second year.

First-year teachers expressed considerable optimism for their professional future. About half chose the highest category and four of five selected the top half of the scale.

Only six per cent say their optimism level is low and the study suggests that it grows with experience.

Forty-two per cent of second-year teachers described their optimism for their professional future as greater than it had been in the first year, compared to 21 per cent who report being less positive.

Some expressed a sense of confidence in the future that appears based partly on simply having survived the first year. One first-year teacher put it this way:

"It’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs, thankfully mostly ups. The good news is that I will never have to experience my first year of teaching again."

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