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Ontario Grads Stay with Teaching

Most recent Ontario education graduates are highly committed to teaching. Among the small number who have not kept their College membership current are many who say they have not really left teaching.

by Frank McIntyre

  1. Still teaching in elementary/ secondary school
  2. Not teaching, will definitely/probably return to teaching
  3. Not teaching, will definitely/probably not return to teaching
  4. Not teaching, unsure about return
(pie chart)

By 2005 only eight per cent of 2001 teacher-education graduates were no longer members in good standing with the Ontario College of Teachers. The College's five-year Transition to Teaching study has revealed a very low rate of new-teacher attrition in Ontario. Similarly low loss rates are emerging among graduates of the following three years.

Telephone interviews this year of lapsed College members who graduated from Ontario faculties of education in the years 2001 through 2004 surprised researchers, who had set out to discover the reasons that eight per cent of new members appear to leave teaching within the first four years. The majority of those who were thought to have dropped out of the profession say they have not, in fact, given up on teaching as a career. They either continue to teach or expect to return to teaching after time out for family and other reasons.

An unexpected 221 of the 489 former members contacted by the survey research firm COMPAS on behalf of the College – fully 45 per cent – reported that they were teaching in a school at the time of the survey. Of those not teaching at the time of their interviews, almost half said that they definitely or probably have not left teaching for good.

Most of those not now teaching gained some teaching experience prior to allowing their College memberships to lapse. Three in five (62 per cent) of those not currently teaching say that they did teach after obtaining their teacher certification. One in three of these former teachers had a regular teaching appointment and about half had taught only on a daily occasional basis. Three in five of those who taught did so for more than two years (21 per cent) or between one and two years (38 per cent).

Why some are not teaching

Reasons given for not teaching vary widely. Most respondents indicate they are motivated by multiple considerations in their current non-teaching status. The draw of other interesting or more remunerative work, stressful working conditions in teaching and a perception that teachers are undervalued and criticized top the list of reasons for leaving the profession. Lack of success in finding permanent teaching jobs is also a prominent factor for some.

Leaving and returning

Among the 268 not teaching in schools this year, only one in three report that they definitely (14.2 per cent) or probably (19 per cent) have left the teaching profession. Nearly half say they consider themselves to have definitely not (27 per cent) or probably not (19 per cent) left the profession. About one in five (19 per cent) are unsure.

Those returning say they will likely be teaching again within one year (25 per cent), one to three years (24 per cent) or more than three years (26 per cent) in the future, with 14 per cent unsure of their timing.

Those leaving are much more likely than returners to say that teaching is not the career for them. They place emphasis on interest and compensation available in other occupations. Returners, in contrast, are more likely to report that they are simply taking time out to raise children or are out of the classroom for other personal, family or health reasons. They are also less likely to report concerns about dealing with students in the classroom.

Alternatives to elementary and secondary

Those who leave report engagement in a wide array of occupations. One in seven (16 per cent) are teaching in other venues. Another 15 per cent say they have moved on to other human service occupations, such as social work or counselling. Almost three in four (73 per cent) say they are working in an occupation other than teaching. About one in 10 (11 per cent) are raising a family or pursuing further studies.

Those returning present a distinctly different profile. One in three (34 per cent) are raising a family, more than one in four (27 per cent) teach in another setting, and another one in eight are pursuing further studies (10 per cent) or dealing with a personal health issue (2 per cent). Only one in four (26 per cent) are working at an occupation other than teaching.

Preparation and support

Many leavers (25 per cent) and returners (31 per cent) comment positively on their teacher education programs or say they do not have any improvements to suggest. For both groups more practicum time and more focus on the realities of the classroom top their list of suggested changes. More emphasis on classroom management and more attention to curriculum and lesson planning are the most commonly cited specific recommendations.

Leavers and returners present markedly different responses, however, on their level of satisfaction with teacher preparation and with their teaching experience, as well as in their evaluation of the support they received while they were teaching.

The level of satisfaction with teacher preparation and teaching experience is lower for those who report they have likely left the profession for good. Teaching appears to have been a negative experience for many of them – with mentoring, coaching and overall professional support falling to the dissatisfaction end of the scale. Those leaving report less satisfaction with their orientation to the school and job expectations, with the support they received from the school administration and with the support they received from teacher colleagues.


In November and December 2005 a survey research firm conducted telephone interviews with Ontario teacher education graduates since 2001 who appeared to have left the teaching profession. The survey population initially included all 1,759 graduates from 2001 through 2004 who became members of the College following graduation and, by the 2005 calendar year, were no longer in good standing because they did not pay their membership fees in 2005. Some had been not in good standing for two or more years.

This population in general includes many individuals at a highly mobile stage in their careers. Some have not been in contact with the College for up to four years and in many cases telephone numbers of record were no longer valid. Where possible these were updated; nevertheless, 902 individuals could not be reached. This reduced the total sample to 857. Caution should be taken in generalizing the findings of this study to the entire initial population.

Refusals and failed callbacks reduced the final set of interviews to 489, a 57 per cent response rate. As the purpose of the study is to reach former members who are not currently in the teaching profession, the interviewer instructions were to terminate the interview if respondents indicated they were teaching in an elementary or secondary school. The overall sample size achieved means that the results can be relied upon to be an accurate reflection of the target population within 4.5 per cent or 19 times out of 20.

The survey sampling appears similar to the overall population of graduates from the same years in many respects. Six per cent are graduates of French-language programs. Intermediate-Senior division graduates comprise 42 per cent of the group, 17 per cent are Junior-Intermediate, 37 per cent Primary-Junior, and four per cent technological studies.

Many more respondents reside outside Ontario (22 per cent) than in the comparable population of members in good standing and more are male (31.7 per cent) than among the general population of new Ontario teacher education graduates.

The Transition to Teaching study is made possible by a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Reasons for not teaching

  median average
Another type of job was more interesting 4 3.5
Working conditions too stressful 4 3.4
Teachers undervalued and criticized 3 3.34
Could not find a permanent teaching job 3 3.29
Earn more in another occupation 3 3.29
Could not find a job in community I wanted 3 3.23
Could not find type of teaching job I wanted 3 3.18
Too demanding on personal life 3 3.09
Teaching is not for me 3 2.88
I teach other than elementary/secondary 2 2.75
Took time off to raise children 1 2.52
Students too hard to deal with 2 2.5
Not prepared for teaching assignments 2 2.44
Other personal, family or health reasons 1 2.22

Alternate occupations

  Leavers Returners
  % %
Teaching – early childhood, postsecondary, adult education or other non-school settings 16 27
Other human services 15 4
Other occupations 58 22
Maternity or raising children 5 34
Health reasons 0 2
Pursuing further studies 6 10

Notable differences in reasons for not teaching

  Leavers Returners
  Median Average Median Average
Another type of job was more interesting 4 3.8 3 3.08
Teaching is not for me 4 3.62 2 2.26
Earn more in another occupation 4 3.36 3 3.18
Students too hard to deal with 2 2.73 2 2.27
Other personal, family or health reasons 1 2.08 1 2.32
Took time off to raise children 1 2.03 3 3.03

1 = strong dissatisfaction or low support, 5 = strong satisfaction or high support

Satisfaction or support

  Leavers Returners
  Median Average Median Average
Satisfaction with teaching experience 2 2.54 4 3.62
Satisfaction with teacher education 3 3.37 4 3.64
Preparation for job of teacher 3 3.49 4 3.81
Professional support received while teaching 2 2.59 4 3.76
Orientation to school and job expectations 3 2.85 4 3.76
Mentoring or coaching experienced 2.5 2.89 4 3.83
Classroom resources provided 3 2.93 3 3.28
School board in-service activities 3.5 4.04 3 4.06
Principal and vice-principal support 3 2.94 4 3.82
Support from other teachers generally 3 3.2 4 3.91

1 = strong dissatisfaction or low support, 5 = strong satisfaction or high support

Who are the non-member teachers?

The telephone survey plan called for a termination of the interview if respondents reported that they were currently teaching in an elementary or secondary school. The 45 per cent who said they were teaching may include individuals teaching in non-public-school settings, teaching outside the province, teaching under emergency provisions in publicly funded schools or teaching under some other arrangements in publicly funded Ontario schools that may not be in compliance with regulatory requirements.