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Hiring, retiring and questionable gestures

Transition west

I read Transition to Teaching (December 2007) with interest, as well as responses from readers on the scarcity of jobs.

Although I graduated from Lakehead University in 2001, I had an unpleasant start to my teaching career in Ontario and left the profession for two years. During this time I moved west, landed in Calgary and began substitute teaching. I was surprised by the wide variety of alternative and special-interest public schools and the availability of teaching positions. Within four months I was offered a half-time contract, which was renewed the next year as a full-time position and subsequently led to a permanent contract.

Alberta is on the precipice of a teacher shortage with an estimated 17,000 teachers retiring in the next 12 years and not enough teachers being trained to meet demand (Calgary Herald, March 5, 2008). It is already challenging to find supply teachers who are consistently available because of long-term occasional positions!

My advice: Move west! Expand your horizons and explore job markets and communities that will welcome your enthusiasm, value your experience and provide choices. Perhaps the answer to the lack of positions in Ontario is not reducing the number of spots in teachers’ colleges or blaming retired teachers, but a broader outlook on employment mobility.

Johanna Hirons teaches a high school class in Calgary for hard-to-engage students who are at risk of dropping out due to emotional, social or behavioural concerns.

Retirement requirements

I have read the articles on the current job situation with great interest. Professionally Speaking has provided some good coverage.

The fact that retired teachers are filling occasional teaching jobs has been pointed out and the context suggests that this is a negative thing. As I approach retirement, I’ll point out that some retired teachers who work on an occasional basis might not have retired if that opportunity had not been there. While it does take some work from those trying to enter the field, it also means a full-time opening was created.

As a technology teacher, I think there could be more retirements with some changes to the pension structure. Most of us began teaching after years in the industry, and need to stay in teaching much later than other teachers to reach our 85 factor. Some pensions get around this by waiving the penalty factor at a specified age – at 60 or even 55 – to encourage more retirements.

I question the statement, “Job market fails new-Canadian teachers.” Maybe the system that generates new teachers is partially to blame. Just this year a new teachers’ college was opened at Wilfred Laurier University. When we are clearly producing more qualified graduates than we need, how can another institution be certified? Does the College not have any say in this? Hundreds of young people are being taken for thousands of dollars by institutions that seem to have no concern for the world beyond their cash registers.

Robert St. Cyr teaches technological studies, music, business, math and visual art at  Kitchener CI.

Plum assignments

While I understand the frustration of newly minted teachers who have difficulty finding jobs in a scarce market, I take umbrage at the statement that we retired teachers who choose to do some supply work get all the “plum” assignments.

I have filled in when teachers fell unexpectedly ill, leaving virtually no plans, and when a teacher was absent with no specified return date. Having already taught the grade, I was able to pick up where they had left off with little direction and using my own materials. I’ve filled in for teachers going on and returning from maternity leave and, as the one with the most teaching days in the semester, was responsible for report cards. As I was familiar with the system

I was able to complete these with little difficulty. I’m not complaining or bragging, just trying to show why I was chosen.

I always enjoy returning to my school, catching up with former colleagues and renewing ties with students (or their siblings). I prefer junior and intermediate grades and, as many supply teachers are reluctant to accept intermediate assignments, I’m often called. And teachers do ask to have me fill in, knowing I’m familiar with the material.

New teachers do need opportunities to enter their chosen career, but it’s my chosen career too, so give us old hands our due. While there may be inequities, I’ve never been given the “easy” class because I know someone.

Brenda Wessely is a retired teacher who taught in the Durham Catholic DSB.

Questionable gestures

Use More Than Your Words (March 2008) described the work of several consultants and was illustrated by teachers from Jarvis Collegiate – one of the most culturally diverse schools in the city, so I was amazed not to see one reference to the cultural specificity of gestures.

Anyone who has taught students from around the world knows that gestures are not universal. Some may even be rude to some cultural groups. Others, related to pointing and eye contact, certainly require thought before wholesale implementation.

The article seemed simply to promote one consultant’s workshop. I’m not sure why, especially when it may not apply to large numbers of our students.

Annice Blake taught Latin, English and ESL at Branksome Hall for many years and is now an online instructor for the UWO Faculty of Continuing Education (ESL).

Continuing retired

Considering the many complaints I hear and read about retired teachers choosing to continue teaching, including in Letters (March 2008), I feel obligated to draw attention to several facts.

To begin, many teachers do not qualify for full pensions. Not all of us are married to teachers, and our spouses may have been unemployed at different times, resulting in financial hardship near the end of our careers. Some have had to take time to care for children, aging parents or young grandchildren.

For others like myself, my teaching increased as home demands lessened when my own children grew up. Finally, I could devote as many hours after school as I wanted to classroom planning and extending my students’ learning experiences.

Teachers have always wanted public support of their job as a profession and yet the expertise of experienced teachers appears to be easily discarded. Do we hear demands for the retirement of dentists, doctors or nurses? Many in these professions cut back on their hours but continue to practise in their chosen field.

Teaching is my profession and I will continue to contribute to it as long as I feel the challenge and joy of teaching children.

Marina Skory spent most of her career in Ontario though she retired while in Alberta. She now teaches music part-time, covering planning time for kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers in the Peel DSB


Paul Stone is from Aamjiwnaang First Nation but teaches at the Walpole Island First Nation Elementary School on Walpole Island First Nation, not at Aamjiwnaang, as noted on page 17 of the March edition.

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