State of the Teaching Profession 2004

Confidence in public education on the rise

by Brian Jamieson  

Survey Results

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Confidence in public education on the rise

- among both teachers and the public

by Brian Jamieson

Students are better prepared now than they were a generation ago, the public says.

Teachers say their biggest challenge is lack of time - not enough of it to prepare, teach the expected curriculum and mark.

Teachers are dead set against standardized testing - though the public is not.

So say respondents to Professionally Speaking's second annual members' survey, State of the Teaching Profession 2004.

The survey is part of an ongoing effort to communicate with College members and gauge their assessments of the state of teaching in the province, says College Registrar Doug Wilson. This year, for the first time, the magazine commissioned a complementary survey of the public.

"Ontario teachers should be pleased," says Wilson. "Their good work and high standards of professionalism are being noticed and applauded."

The 2004 surveys explore:

  • the teacher's role in inspiring, motivating and preparing students for the future, including further education or entry into the workforce
  • the pros and cons of teaching as an occupation
  • where and how teachers draw satisfaction from their careers
  • the most challenging aspects of the profession
  • advantages and disadvantages of mixed ability classrooms
  • the effectiveness of schools in the community, and
  • testing and evaluating students, teachers and schools.

Successes cited

Ontarians say that students are better prepared than they were a generation ago, notably in computers and technology but also in math and science. They also believe that professional skills are more important than personal skills to students' future success.

Literacy, work ethic, math and social and interpersonal skills outrank the arts, athleticism, civic mindedness and generosity of spirit in the public's view. Teachers and the public put literacy at the top among individual skills and say athleticism is least important, although the public believes students have not made any appreciable gains in literary knowledge over the past generation.

Among educators, confidence in Ontario's education system has jumped significantly since this time last year. This year, 64 per cent of teachers say they are confident in the system, compared to less than half last year.

Teachers continue to feel that the profession (79 per cent), their schools (80 per cent) and they themselves (89 per cent) are doing a good job. Professional confidence is especially high among French-speaking teachers (90 per cent versus 79 per cent of English-speaking teachers) and those teaching in French schools (91 per cent).

Whether or not this confidence in the system is a major influence, more educators say they are apt to stay in teaching longer. This year, 71 per cent of teachers say they will definitely be teaching in five years. Last year, 65 per cent said they would stay.

Challenges and accomplishments

A majority of teachers says that demands on teachers continue to grow. Eighty per cent agree with the statement, "Each year more is expected of me as a teacher." Not surprisingly, they say the biggest challenge they face is not having enough time.

Motivating and maintaining student interest stands as the second ranked concern (16 per cent of respondents) followed closely by meeting parent, government and community expectations. A range of other issues was raised:

  • large classes; student discipline and behaviour issues (each cited by 11 per cent)
  • work-life balance; increased professional responsibility; lack of parent, government and community respect (each cited by nine per cent)
  • lack of professional autonomy; remaining current; lack of new, quality textbooks (six per cent)
  • lack of specialist assistants (four per cent).

Schools receive high marks for encouraging student diligence and for teaching the curriculum. Seventy-eight per cent of teachers and 52 per cent of public respondents feel that schools encourage students to work hard and advance.

Eighty per cent of teachers think schools are covering the curriculum, compared to 54 per cent of the public. More than parents, teachers value schools' abilities to evaluate student progress, adjust to change and improve teaching practices. Meanwhile, one-in-five public respondents say they simply don't know when asked about the effectiveness of schools in these areas. Women give higher marks than men in each category and French-speaking teachers are more positive than their English colleagues.

Teachers, more so than the public, think schools do a good job organizing field trips to community attractions. However, the numbers drop off - roughly one in five Ontarians say they just don't know - regarding how well schools involve parent volunteers, host community events or classes, bring in guest artists and experts or make school facilities available for community use. Elementary teachers rate their schools higher than do secondary school teachers on involving parent volunteers and organizing field trips.

Opinions diverge

The public and teachers agree that the best teachers, whether they are male or female, should teach our students. Both say that having men and women teachers is important and a majority of respondents say the College should increase efforts to attract men to the profession. Teachers are, nonetheless, more resistent to the idea that faculties of education should enroll equal numbers of men and women.

Perhaps the greatest divergence in opinion between teachers and the general public occurs in questions about testing and evaluations. While they agree that teacher-directed assessments of student performance are the most accurate measures of achievement, they differ on the value of province-wide standardized tests.

Ninety-two per cent of teachers feel that their own observations of students, learning logs and class participation provide an accurate measure of academic ability. Public respondents also assign top scores to teacher assessments, but are less likely to deem them accurate. Forty-three per cent of the public perceives standardized tests to be accurate to some degree, while 58 per cent of teachers do not. Ontarians are also less apt than teachers to view teacher-designed tests as true reflections of academic ability.

Teachers strongly oppose using standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers or schools and are particularly vehement about using tests to assess the performance of individual teachers or principals. (French teachers are slightly more forgiving of this notion than their English-speaking counterparts.) Nor do teachers think tests should influence school funding or improvement plans. Seventy-five per cent, compared to 25 per cent of the public, are opposed to using EQAO tests to evaluate schools. And whereas 57 per cent of teachers think that testing shouldn't affect funding allocations to school boards, only 29 per cent of the public shares this opinion.

Goals and motivations

Nonetheless, there is unanimity among teachers and the public in believing that the purpose of Ontario schools is to prepare students for further education.

While the majority of both groups says it's important for public schools to prepare students for the workforce, teachers are especially fervent on this point. Public respondents say teachers inspired them to pursue post-secondary education, fulfill career goals and participate in extra-curricular activities. But they hadn't found teachers particularly motivational in their development of particular skills - whether woodworking or playing a musical instrument.

True to last year's poll, the vast majority of teachers (80 per cent) cite helping students learn and grow as the greatest source of job satisfaction. The next most common responses are "seeing with your own eyes the results of your efforts" (22 per cent) and "positive feedback from students and their parents" (11 per cent).

Most teachers feel appreciated by their students, continue to enjoy their profession and would recommend teaching to others. And Ontarians seem happy with their teachers. Sixty-one per cent say their teachers inspired them to work hard at school and 58 per cent say teachers inspired them to succeed in life.

"This landmark study pairs teacher and parent opinions in ways that will both comfort and prod the profession," says Marilyn Laframboise, College Council Chair. "It's a comfort to see that the public respects our work as teachers perhaps more than teachers believed.

"The public tells us that teachers do a good job, that the quality of education is improving and that teachers inspire their children to excel. They also share teachers' concern for students' success, but they want assurances and accountability."

British and Ontario teachers agree

Teaching is rewarding, exciting and fulfilling but more ongoing training is needed, says a recent poll of British teachers.

The National Foundation for Educational Research sent surveys to 10,000 teachers for the General Teaching Council for England (GTC). Forty-four per cent responded.

Among the results:

  • British teachers want more respect for their professional creativity and judgement - but only two in five think it will happen.
  • They want to enjoy a greater role in developing students' initiative, analytical and thinking skills.
  • Ninety per cent believe that online and computer-based learning will increase, but just over half think it's desirable.
  • Eighty per cent do not feel their professional development needs are being met.
  • Students are key to their motivation, effectiveness and professional fulfillment.
  • Almost 80 per cent credit interaction with students as the stimulus for the most effective, inspirational lessons they've taught.
  • One in five say that teaching is a demanding career that requires hard work, but when asked what they would say to someone considering becoming a teacher, the most common response (again, one in five) is that teaching is a rewarding, exciting and fulfilling career.

GTC chief executive Carol Adams said that the survey demonstrates this is a profession committed to delivering on its values, one that puts the interests and needs of pupils at the centre.

See the complete survey at