September 1997

Career Prospects Brighten
Career Prospects Brighten


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Teachers’ Career Prospects Are Much Brighter as the New Century Dawns

We’re about to enter the best years in a long time for teachers to begin or advance their careers in Ontario. Ironically, the doom and gloom of recent years about job prospects may be driving many of the province’s best students away from the profession just when prospects are brightest.


By Frank McIntyre and Laverne Smith

Pessimistic talk about a surplus of teachers in Ontario is out-of-date. The sad stories of the tough times some new teachers had finding their first teaching positions in Ontario are quickly changing to anecdotes about students receiving job offers as early as March for the next school year.

Teacher retirements have been rising steadily over the past several years. As this trend continues, surplus graduates of the mid-90s will find jobs and new grads will have more and more opportunities in elementary and secondary teaching all across the province.

It’s time for the word on the street to catch up with this swing in demand for new teachers.

Frank McIntyre
Demographics, public policy, and the health of public finances have created a roller coaster ride of boom and bust in the market for new teachers in Ontario.

The 1950s and 1960s saw massive growth in school enrolment with the baby boom, post-war economic expansion and immigration. Ontario’s dynamic economy and society’s commitment to education led to a growth in school enrolment among the highest in the world.

Ontario’s K – 13 enrolment rose from 1.5 million students in the early 1960s to more than two million by 1970.

Ontario teacher education enrolment doubled to a peak of 14,000 in the late 1960s after some years of panic hiring with special short preparation courses and the hiring of teachers trained elsewhere. Teacher shortages of the 1960s quickly turned into surpluses as school enrolment declined again with the baby bust of the 1970s.

Unlike the more sustained growth of the previous decades, during the 1970s and early 1980s Ontario’s economy cycled through bursts of recession and short-term growth. Migration to Ontario slowed. But, luckily for teachers, government support of schools remained strong in those years.

These were years of dramatic improvements in classroom support in Ontario, especially for the elementary years. Pupil-to-teacher ratios declined from 25 to 1 in 1970, to 18 to 1 by the start of the 1990s. Secondary schools experienced a parallel but less dramatic increase in teachers relative to students. Public policy supported lower pupil to teacher ratios. Funding was extended to complete the separate school system. Kindergarten and Junior Kindergarten programs expanded.
Laverne Smith

Nevertheless, the enrolment decline meant this period was a lean one for new teacher grads.

Brief shortage

The roller coaster pointed skyward once more in 1985 as the baby boom echo – the large cohort of offspring of the post-war boomers – reached elementary school age. A special early retirement incentive induced large numbers of teachers to leave teaching earlier than planned. A brief teacher shortage emerged again before teacher education programs geared into action to produce more graduates and once more correct the supply and demand balance.

Since 1993, governments at all levels have drastically tightened the purse strings and Ontario’s schools have felt the impact.

Over the past three years, pupil-to-teacher ratios have increased once more. Class sizes are growing and boards are cancelling lower demand courses and programs deemed to be "non-essential." Teachers with assignments outside the classroom are a quickly vanishing species.

Despite baby boom echo enrolment growth, new teacher recruitment dropped sharply in the mid-1990s as school boards scrambled to balance budgets.

Bad news travels fast. Teacher grads of 1993 through 1995 were especially hard hit by the bear market in Ontario teaching jobs. Recruiters from California, New Zealand and elsewhere had a field day enticing many of our best and brightest new teachers to meet their shortages.

When large numbers of school board staff receive surplus notices each spring, it’s big news. But the media pay less attention to the fact that most of the same staff secure a position by the start of the next school year when enrolments firm up and retirements and other departures take effect.

The bad news of no teaching jobs passes among new graduates, teachers, their families and friends. The shortage of jobs is now accepted as gospel throughout the province and the evidence of this is clear in teacher education enrolments.

Applications plummet

Ontario education has been favoured for many years with an abundance of bright, energetic and motivated potential recruits. Our universities normally receive three to five applications for each teacher education place available. But from a high of 25,000 in 1992, teacher education applications plummeted to about 7,000 in 1997. Some universities may not find enough qualified students to meet their plans for this fall.

It is unfortunate that perceptions often lag behind changes in realities. This decline in interest in teaching as a career comes just when Ontario is about to embark on the most massive turnover in its teaching force in history.

Generation Retiring

Remember the large numbers of teachers hired in the 1960s. This generation is now reaching the end of their teaching careers in increasingly large numbers. In the mid-1980s annual teacher retirements in Ontario were in the 1,000 to 2,000 range. By 1990 the number rose to 4,500. Retirements continue to mount with projections approaching 6,000 by 2005.

Over the next nine years more than 47,000 teaching positions will open up in Ontario as two out of every five teachers retire.

This signals a period of unprecedented renewal for schools in Ontario, so the sharply reduced interest in teaching careers among university students is troublesome.

How long can school boards staff vacancies from the surplus of teacher grads of the mid-1990s? How many of these will have gone to other countries to teach or on to other careers? Should universities accept into teacher education most everyone who applies with minimal qualifications? Can graduates of other provinces and countries make up for the shortfall in interest in teaching in Ontario?

Some of these questions have been addressed empirically. In our 1996 study for the Ontario Deans of Education, we projected a range of low and high demand for new teachers in Ontario through 2004. The study took into account a number of factors that might affect teacher demand.

We looked at enrolment growth, teacher retirements, other attrition in full-time teachers, the loss of Grade 13, less support for age three-to-five schooling, shifts of non-classroom teachers back to the classroom, as well as further reductions in funding that might result in increased class sizes.

Surprising demand

No matter how we ran the assumptions on these factors, the range of high and low demand projection showed an average need for 12,000 to 13,000 replacement full-time teachers annually in Ontario through to 2004.

This number appears surprisingly high. It includes large numbers of teachers who leave full-time teaching each year for reasons other than retirement. They may move to part-time and supply teaching, to non-teaching occupations or to family responsibilities. They may step out of teaching for a time to renew themselves. Some of these same teachers move back into full-time teaching in another year, but not as many as leave each year.

Taking this additional movement into account, there is a net requirement of 7,500 to 8,500 new teachers each year in Ontario.

Our findings are reinforced by a 1997 Statistics Canada study. That study addressed retirements alone and did not take into account the other attrition factors we examined. Even with this understatement of demand, Stats Can notes a balance of teacher supply and demand in Ontario through 2005 with teacher education remaining at present capacity levels. The federal study noted that the early retirement boom we’re experiencing in Ontario is delayed and less marked in other provinces.

Better Information

We know now in a general way that new elementary and secondary teacher demand will rise significantly in most regions of the province and in most teaching fields.

It will be possible to refine these projections in the future with the single Teacher Identification Number that is being adopted by the Ontario College of Teachers, boards of education and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board. This single identifier will enhance our ability to anticipate program, language and regional teacher shortages.

Prospective teachers will have much better job market information. Teachers will have more information on emerging leadership and program shortages to assist in their own growth and career planning.

Demand information will assist teacher education programs in their planning. Researchers will be able to focus on important questions such as the varied reasons for teachers’ temporary movement out of full-time teaching each year and for the non-retirement departures from the profession.

The teacher surplus of the mid-1990s in Ontario will readily be absorbed over the next few years. Career prospects are very bright indeed for new teachers in Ontario as the new century dawns. Even Ontario teacher candidates graduating before 2000 can look forward to excellent prospects in their home province.

The competition for teaching positions will be brisk for a couple more years as grads of recent years settle into permanent positions. New grads may have to accept supply teaching jobs, limited contracts and second choice locations for a while.

Flexibility Important

But teachers who are flexible in their search for a first position and take a somewhat longer time horizon can likely look forward before long to a permanent job in a teaching assignment and school that suits them.

The two out of five Ontario teachers who will retire over the next nine years will vacate many positions of leadership. The next two decades will be good years for teachers who want to be department heads, vice-principals and principals.

Schools need the best, brightest and most committed young professionals of this new generation. The challenges of reduced resources, increased enrolment, changing curriculum and organizational turmoil will require this infusion of new and talented energies as many retire.

The decline in interest in teaching is based on out-of-date information about employment prospects. Teaching in Ontario will be a viable career for many of the new generation in this province. Spread the good news.

Frank McIntyre is the Ontario College of Teachers Human Resources Consultant and a former Assistant Dean at York University’s Faculty of Education. Dr. Laverne Smith is Dean of Education at Nipissing University and a member of the Ontario College of Teachers. A former Dean of the University of New Brunswick, she has contributed broadly to research in Canadian teacher education and educational administration.

The full text of the report to the Ontario Association of Deans of Education, Teacher Supply and Demand: The Coming Decade in Ontario.