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College members provide reasons to celebrate teaching

They embrace teaching and they know what they need to improve student outcomes. Listen closely.

by Marilyn A. Laframboise

In a perfect world every day would be October 5th.

October 5th is UNESCO’s World Teachers’ Day. It’s a day the world says thanks to teachers. It’s an occasion that celebrates the many ways teachers contribute to the growth and development of the world’s children.

Teachers champion children. They instill in them a sense of wonder and the ability to question and make meaning. Teachers inspire self confidence and personal growth. They model self-discipline, tolerance, acceptance and respect. They provide the tools for success in all academic and career endeavours – the ability to read, compute and present.

Behind our children – the young and the young of heart – there stands a teacher supporting, nurturing and encouraging them to become all they can dream.

In reading the results of the College’s annual survey of members (this month’s Professionally Speaking cover story), I am reminded yet again of the selfless dedication teachers have to their students and to their own growth as professionals and to the teaching profession.

During telephone surveys conducted in July, College representatives had an opportunity to hear the hopes and dreams of Ontario teachers. We wanted to know what matters most to them, what they think about Ministry reforms, what their career aspirations are and more.

What I think the survey most reveals is that teachers want optimal conditions to do their best work.

According to our third annual State of the Teaching Profession survey, teachers perceive the provincial government as “education friendly” and think that recently settled long-term contracts bode well for stability in the education system. They credit their pre-service education at Ontario’s faculties of education with preparing them for the classroom. And they continue to demonstrate a commitment to professional development through extra reading, collaborating with colleagues, developing and implementing curricula, mentoring, and planning and attending workshops, institutes and conferences.

Not surprisingly, they think they can do better.

Teachers want to see class sizes drop. Smaller classes will make the biggest difference in improving learning for students, teachers say. But it isn’t happening fast enough. Half of the teachers polled saw no change in the size of their classrooms last year. One in five actually reported an increase in class size.

Ask what more can be done to improve learning and teachers have ready answers. More help for at-risk, immigrant and special students. More phys ed, music and art programs. Mentoring programs for new teachers. More specially trained literacy and numeracy teachers. And get rid of standardized testing – please!

There’s mixed opinion on the length of pre-service teacher education programs. Some want them extended to 10 months (the length of a school year). Some would like to see two-year programs. But if there are extensions, place greater focus on practice teaching, survey respondents said.

Are there surprises in the survey? Yes, a few.

It’s disconcerting to learn that teachers are open to leaving the profession for careers in other sectors. It’s also surprising to see how few are interested in moving into school management as vice-principals and principals. An even greater number shuns the idea of becoming supervisory officers.

Does that mean that our well-educated cadre of professionals can be enticed to leaving for lucrative private-sector jobs or that there’s a looming shortage of system leaders? Not necessarily. But it is an indicator that the teaching profession itself cannot cling blithely to faith in teachers’ altruism as a reason for staying.

"Are there surprises in the survey?"

Even though the current supply of teachers is sufficient to meet projected demands in most areas, we cannot be complacent. The profession must not only attract and recruit the best people, it must do its best to keep them happy and productive.

Once again, teachers have an answer. Promote teaching vigorously. Shatter misconceptions. Demonstrate the true worth and value of teachers to the public, they say.

And maybe, just maybe, every day would feel like October 5th.