Imagine an armada of ships docking in a harbour. That’s the image I had on joining colleagues from across the sector to discuss teacher development in recent months.
Jim McQueen, president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, and Harold Brathwaite, executive director of the Retired Teachers of Ontario, chaired a working table struck to report on the issue to Education Minister Gerard Kennedy’s partnership table.
The fleet of impassioned educators and stakeholders brought vision and vigor to the debate, ultimately arguing in unison for greater support for new teachers.
Two years ago, the College made a well-researched case for a mandatory induction program for new teachers. Responding to our Transition to Teaching survey, beginning teachers told us they felt cast adrift, left to sink or swim, given tough assignments and not enough help. We consulted with teachers, administrators, trustees and parents to seek their thoughts. To a person, everyone favoured fully funded government support to help new teachers become better faster. As a result, the College presented a series of recommendations to the government in its New Teacher Induction: Growing into the Profession policy paper.
Now, with long-term teacher contracts in hand across the province, the seas appear calm in Ontario education and the waters opportune to set sail in this direction.
In June, the working table reported on the first of a two-phase deliberation process on teacher development. The paper focused on creating new supports for beginning teachers, a more meaningful entry-to-practice model and links to Teacher Performance Appraisal for new teachers.
The McQueen-Brathwaite report recommended that all faculty of education grads receive permanent teaching licences upon graduation, but that a mandatory Beginning Teacher Development (BTD) program be created in every school board. Such a program would include orientation, professional development opportunities, mentoring/mentorship and, where possible, appropriate teaching assignments.
Consistent with the College’s recommendations, the report said that, where possible, boards should not assign new teachers to split grades, Grades 3, 6, 9 or 10, special education or portables. If that’s unavoidable, boards should provide extra support.
At the same time, the McQueen-Brathwaite paper advocated a growth and assessment model in which principals would assess new teachers twice in their first year. Satisfactory ratings would result in an endorsement on their teaching certificates and on the College’s public register, the co-chairs said. New legislation to revoke the current qualifying test requirement needs to surface first. Regulation changes would also have to occur to remove the provisional tag on the certificates of 2005 Ontario faculty of education grads.
The report reflected the input and goodwill of a cross-section of education stakeholders, including faculties, parents, unions, retired teachers, principals, trustees and the College. Not all participants agreed with all elements, however. For example, teachers who would not have access to a BTD program through a publicly funded school board would never receive an endorsement on their teaching certificate and might be perceived as having a second-class teaching licence. Others had concerns about placing an endorsement on teaching certificates at all.
In the end, all stakeholders backed the notion of greater support, including mentoring, for beginning teachers. New teachers would feel better equipped faster to meet the growing demands on public education. It’s reasonable to expect that students would also benefit.
The report has gone to the Minister of Education’s partnership table as advice. Ultimately, the Minister himself will decide how much to implement and support financially.
If ever there was a time to act, this is it. The winds of goodwill blow freely and the educational climate makes the seas of change a sailor’s delight.