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.
Barriers, transitions and occasionals

Barriers to full-time career

I was delighted to see due recognition for occasional teachers (March 2011). These members of the profession provide great support to those who need to step away from the classroom, and the article certainly highlights the advantages of having an occasional teaching position.

Indirectly, the story points to the problem of underemployment or lack of employment that new graduates continue to face. For years I have been a teacher-associate for some stellar candidates. While they have found work, there are sufficient numbers of candidates – exceptionally skilled and talented – who remain jobless. My colleagues and I want to offer advice or strategies that are helpful to job seekers, but we lack the insight or clairvoyance needed to reassure them that they will find employment soon.

Those of us who have opened our classrooms to teacher candidates feel a duty to advocate for them. Enthusiastic encouragement on its own rings hollow to those eager to begin their careers: Hope fades without some promise of a dream fulfilled. And frankly, new staff is critical to our profession. A balance of experienced veteran educators and energetic, enthusiastic novices rejuvenates the work environment, while diversity in staffing gives students the best advantages of learning from a wide range of teaching personalities and pedagogies.

One can only hope that new teachers will be able to join the ranks of our fine and honourable profession sooner rather than later. Facing seemingly insurmountable barriers to employment should not be part of the new-teacher induction process.

Jse-Che Lam, OCT, teaches at Subway Academy II in Toronto.

International access

I have read Transition to Teaching 2010 (March 2011), which reports on the huge employment discrepancy between teachers who have been educated here and those educated abroad.

I am an internationally trained teacher qualified to teach in Ontario. I arrived in Ontario 12 years ago and applied to the College. When, after five years, I got my Certificate of Qualification, I felt I had finally reached the finish line. I was so proud I sent copies to my family back home.

Little did I realize that this was only the beginning of a struggle. I was qualified, but there were no takers for those not educated here. I have done five Additional Qualification courses and have worked in a private school in Toronto for two-and-half years. Put me in a classroom and I am in my element. Yet, I have applied to public boards numerous times – even in the past when the hiring situation was much, much better. I have not even been called for an interview.

I attended convent school in Bombay – the financial and cultural capital of India. I attended one of the most prestigious and elite teachers’ colleges of that city, where I graduated first in the college and 10th in my graduating year at the University of Bombay. If there is no hope for me, what hope is there for others who have not been as fortunate as I have been? Meanwhile, when supply teachers are needed in my own children’s public school, I see mostly retired teachers. Did retired teachers not already get their opportunities? Don’t they have a very generous pension?

Are internationally qualified teachers not deemed suitable for supply teaching? If not, why raise our hopes by giving us the label of qualified? It means nothing and is worthless to me.

Isn’t the Canadian way to judge a person based on personal worth and not lump individuals into convenient categories? Why is there no evidence of this attitude in our field? Why do I rarely read anything about people like me in Professionally Speaking, which is supposed to be a representation of all its members?

I currently teach the Grade 5 academic curriculum – language, math, science and social studies – crammed into a half-day position. Even a private religious school where I used to work not only prefers but rather insists on Canadian-educated teachers!

So, I write this letter in frustration and despondence wondering if there is anyone who would read this letter and spend a few moments thinking about a system that officially qualifies teachers (because it must?) but refuses to employ them because of their previous nationality.

Salma Nakhuda, OCT, teaches part-time at a private school in Toronto.

T2T oversupply

I enjoyed reading Transition to Teaching 2010 (March 2011). With the rich data collected, I must ask: What is being done to address the oversupply of teachers? Each year faculties of education across Ontario and in New York continue to graduate way more teachers than we need.

Data is only useful if it is acted upon. My hope is that the Ontario government will decrease the number of students admitted to faculties of education. Earning a Bachelor of Education requires commitment, dedication and hard work. I can only sympathize with the 25 per cent of 2009–10 graduates who could not even secure supply teaching and the 20 per cent of underemployed fifth-year teachers. What do they do when they have student loans to pay and no means to put food on the table?

We have let these new graduates down – as well as the associate teachers and administrators who put so much effort into working with teacher candidates – by not being able to hire them.

Ultimately, we let our students down as well, since they do not benefit from these new teachers who are equipped with the latest in teaching and learning methodologies.

Louis Lim, OCT,  is Head of Mathematics at Richmond Hill High School in the York Region DSB.

Elephant in the room

Thanks for the informative and sympathetic article, Occasional Teaching (March 2011). While it examined many aspects of the situation facing OTs, it missed the elephant in the room.

True, “teachers newer to the profession are struggling to find enough work to earn a living.” At large urban boards, many more OTs are struggling. Apart from declining enrolment, why is that happening now?

Clearly, it is due to a large number of retired teachers with ample pensions who return as OTs. The jobs they capture deprive new teachers plus many single parents, visible minorities and veteran substitutes of the work needed to make a decent living.

The change in provincial rules that in September 2012 will enable retirees to double-dip 50 days each school year without pension penalty (as opposed to the old 95 days for the first three years upon retiring and 20 days a year thereafter) will have a mixed impact. It will open up more LTO positions to non-retirees. But it will deprive the latter of more daily teaching opportunities. And keep in mind that 50 is really 69 days. If retired teachers manoeuvre to save the 50th day for the start of a new school month, they get to teach the entire month additionally without pension penalty.

Changes that give OTs with no pension income preferential access to substitute teaching assignments, ahead of teachers with pensions, are sorely needed in Ontario.

Barry Weisleder, OCT, is a secondary school substitute teacher in Toronto.

Artistic excellence

I read For the Love of Art by Rochelle Pomerance (March 2011) with great interest.

The article effectively points out the benefits of specialized high school arts programs for developing talented students’ artistic skills and for raising artistic awareness in general among students, who will also be the audiences of tomorrow.

Pomerance mentioned programs offered at école secondaire catholique Béatrice--Desloges in Ottawa and, in Sudbury, école secondaire Macdonald-Cartier et collège Notre-Dame. However, she missed the Centre d’excellence artistique at école secondaire publique De La Salle, which initiated the first artistic concentration in a French-language high school in Ontario in 1983 and is known throughout the province.

Many young people who received their pre-professional artistic training at De La Salle have gone on to become professional artists pursuing national and international careers.

The Centre d’excellence artistique De La Salle currently offers specializations in visual arts, dance, instrumental music, vocal music, theatre, literary creation and television-cinema and will be celebrating its 30th anniversary with FÍtes du 30e in May 2013.

Jean-Claude Bergeron, a retired teacher, was founder of the Centre d’excellence artistique De La Salle and its co-ordinator from 1983 to 2000.