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State of the Teaching Profession 2005:
What matters?

Ontario educators laud contracts in the drive for stability, but other issues still loom

by Brian Jamieson

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Survey Results

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State of the Teaching Profession 2005: What matters?

Ontario educators laud contracts in the drive for stability, but other issues still loom

by Brian Jamieson

Have peace and stability been restored to public education?

Yes, to a degree, say respondents to the College's annual survey of members.

However, Ontario educators say that reducing class sizes - something they believe will make the biggest difference in improving learning for students - still needs to occur.

The third annual survey polled 1,000 College members by phone in July. Statistically, the sample is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

The survey gauges teachers' perceptions of the state of teaching and education in the province. It explores problems confronting Ontario schools, Ministry reforms, multi-year collective agreements and perceptions of pre-service teacher education.

"Ontario's education system appears well-positioned for positive strides in student achievement," says Doug Wilson, College Registrar. "Long-term contracts and teachers' faith in an education-friendly government creates a positive environment for educators and students."

Seventy-one per cent of the survey's respondents think that new, multi-year collective agreements reached at boards across the province will result in peace and stability. That's good news for the provincial government, which is seen by 31 per cent of those polled as "education friendly." The duration of the contracts is seen as key.

Where doubt lingers, it focuses on board-specific conflicts, unkept government promises, unresolved issues and mistrust. Some respondents also question whether inflation will outpace salary increases.

Generally, teachers credit the provincial government with moderate effectiveness. However, opinion varies on how effective the government has been, depending on the issue. The government scores well on dealing with teacher salaries. But the perception of effectiveness declines when rating the government on teacher supply issues, and the provision of curriculum, technology, materials and facilities.

Teachers think the government is more effective in dealing with problems outside the classroom than those inside, but the initiatives they care most about are connected directly to the classroom.

Smaller classes

Large classes pose the biggest problem in Ontario schools, teachers say. Educators are also concerned about at-risk, immigrant and special-needs students, a lack of support staff, fewer learning materials and student discipline.

Ninety-one per cent of those polled say that smaller classes would do the most to improve student learning. But while members feel that small class sizes are vital to students in every grade, 26 per cent of the survey's respondents favour smaller classes for special-needs students or those with behavioural problems.

On balance, teachers say the size of their classes did not change fundamentally last year over the year before. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) report they had larger classes. Seventeen per cent saw a drop in class size. The remaining nearly 60 per cent saw no change or are unsure.

Not surprisingly, teachers who say large classes are a big problem see small class size as especially desirable. Similarly, those who feel that government administration is a problem are least apt to support safe school action teams.

Respondents were asked for their opinions about a wide range of actual or potential initiatives. In addition to smaller classes, teachers want more classroom help for Special Education students, more physical education, music and art, a mentoring program for new teachers and specially trained teachers in literacy and numeracy in every elementary school.

More than two-thirds (69 per cent of those polled) favour healthy foods in school vending machines. Just over half think safe school action teams, multi-year collective agreements, a review of elementary school curricula and mandatory schooling to age 18 are desirable initiatives.

As with previous surveys, teachers remain dead set against standardized testing. Seventy one per cent say that standardized testing is the least helpful education initiative. No other issue comes close.

Leadership concerns

The 2005 survey found that teachers embrace their roles in the classroom. They're keen to develop their skills and welcome sharing their expertise by mentoring new or less experienced colleagues. However, they show a remarkable lack of interest in becoming school or system administrators.

Sixty-four per cent of teachers do not see becoming a vice-principal or principal on the horizon. And they are open to leaving education for other careers. Survey results show that teachers are as likely to leave the profession as they are to move up to supervisory roles. According to the survey's principal investigator, Conrad Winn of compas, the data suggests that the act of teaching is attractive, identifying oneself as a teacher less so.

The main motive for becoming a principal is to improve schooling, teachers say. Enjoying leadership follows as the next best reason. A lesser number of respondents say the drive to move into school management is fuelled by the desire to get out of the classroom or improve their pay.

Conversely, respondents volunteer that job politics (35 per cent), middle-management stress (22 per cent) and dealing with worried parents, students in crisis, and disciplinary issues (19 per cent) discourage people from becoming principals.

Ontario's educators continue to put a high premium on professional development. This is reflected in the large number of days, in whole or in part, that teachers devote to ongoing job-related learning. On average, teachers say they completed extra reading in their subject or specialty areas during 29 full or partial days during the school year. Furthermore, they invested 24 and 18 days respectively (in whole or in part) collaborating with their school colleagues and developing and implementing curriculum.

Mentoring or being mentored and taking Additional Qualification courses also ranked high among the professional activities of those polled. To a lesser degree teachers report participating in distance education, research and development, working as associate teachers or with subject associations. Other forms of reported professional development included participating in school board in-service opportunities, attending or organizing conferences, workshops or institutes and attending literacy and numeracy workshops or summer development sessions.

Eighty-two per cent of those asked feel they are well suited for their teaching assignments.

Pre-service lauded

Three-quarters of teachers credit Ontario's faculties of education for making them feel prepared for the classroom. About one quarter say the experience was strongly positive, while about half say it was moderately so.

Asked to rate their pre-service program on a 100-point scale, teachers gave scores of 81, 72 and 71 respectively to the practicum experience, to time spent with other teachers in training and to their instructors as sources of guidance and advice. Classroom material imparted by the instructors (69 per cent) and assigned readings (64 per cent) score slightly lower in perceived effectiveness.

Teachers give moderately good grades to specific components of their pre-service programs. Approval ratings range from 72 out of 100 at the top end for helping to understand the standards of practice for the teaching profession to 50 out of 100 at the low end for preparing them to work with parents. Average marks go to everything from setting appropriate teacher-student boundaries and maintaining a good standard of classroom behaviour to handling administrative tasks and teaching students from minority backgrounds.

Opinion divides when educators are asked whether the pre-service program should be shortened or extended. More than half think pre-service training should be expanded. Thirty per cent say it should last 10 months - the same length as the school year. Another 26 per cent support a two-year pre-service program. Forty per cent say it is fine the way it is. However, an overwhelming majority - 87 per cent - say that if pre-service were to be extended, the program should focus more on practice teaching.

Promotion needed

For the third year running, teachers expressed concern about the public's lack of understanding of the demands and complexities of the teaching profession. Respondents say that many people have unrealistic expectations and don't appreciate the job teachers do with the resources at hand. Teachers say it's vital to promote achievements in teaching to help attract the best and brightest to the profession.

Three-quarters of those polled support conducting a communications, information or public relations campaign to enhance the image of teaching among the general public.