Turnover unnoticed as excellence in teaching continues

The College has licensed one-third of the teaching profession in the last seven years. Despite tremendous turnover, education excellence continues without outcry or fanfare.

by Doug Wilson

As it passes hands, the torch of excellence in teaching barely makes a sound.

More than 70,000 teachers have joined the College since May 1997, and there hasn't been a ripple in the delivery of education to Ontario's students. No screams, no cries, no bemoaning lost experience or lesser quality learning. No public panic about damage done to students.

Quite the opposite, really.

Public education, perhaps unlike any other institution, boasts professionals who share a formidable bond - the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of students.

That bond enables veteran educators to willingly share the lessons of their experience with new recruits. It welcomes energy, vitality and ideas from people along the continuum. It fosters mentoring and leadership development, formally and informally. It puts professional altruism above personal gain and student-centred learning above self-centredness.

It's a credit to the profession that the turnover has gone virtually unnoticed.

Back-to-back surveys of College members show clearly that people enter teaching to help others. They stay for the same reason - despite on-the-job trials and tribulations.

However, not all teaching professionals receive the same levels of support. In many ways, we make things toughest for those just starting out - handing them the more difficult assignments and asking them to juggle duties - even locations - to piece together jobs.

"Public education boasts professionals who share a formidable bond."

Increasingly I hear from disappointed and disgruntled newcomers who, although certified, cannot find employment. As our Transition to Teaching studies have shown, it can take new teachers up to three years to find full-time work. It can take even longer for those who receive their teacher education outside the country.

New teachers also find themselves passed over for occasional assignments, competing with retired members who can continue to teach for 95 days without penalty to their pensions. It's an accepted anomaly in the system. Yet it creates a conundrum for new grads who have been hearing for some time that there's a shortage of teachers.

Shortages do, indeed, exist. School boards grapple for staff who can teach French, mathematics, science, technological education and computer studies. Generalists, meanwhile, wait patiently in line for something permanent.

Students and parents remain largely unaffected. What matters is that there is a qualified, certified, competent teacher at the front of the class, right? You would think so.

Not everyone, however, is necessarily qualified for the teaching assignments they're given. Under pressure to fill subject and leadership gaps, boards are seeking Temporary Letters of Approval (TLA) from the College and Letters of Permission (LOP) from the Ministry of Education in record numbers.

Teachers' appetite for professional knowledge and skill development is growing.

In 2003-04, boards applied for 1,500 TLAs to meet needs for principals, vice-principals, special education and French as a second language positions. In the same period, the ministry granted LOPs to 1,228 non-certified individuals to teach in Ontario classrooms.

While the number of uncertified, unqualified teachers in Ontario schools is unsettling, the soaring number of educators taking Additional Qualification courses offsets it. Clearly, teachers' appetite for professional knowledge and skill development is growing. That bodes well for teaching and learning in the long run. It means that Ontario students are learning from those who themselves place a high value on professional learning.

The sifting and sorting caused by attrition and recruitment will continue. The retirement forecasts we made in 1998 predicting that half the teaching profession would retire by 2008 are right on target.

It's a great comfort to parents that teachers march unhampered and ever onward towards a common goal: student success.