Big Top Classroom
Teaching on tour with Cirque du Soleil
by Mireille Messier
State of the Teaching Profession 2006
College members reflect on teaching and learning today, compared to when they were in school
by Brian Jamieson
Best Laid Plans
From field trips to extracurricular explorations, preparation counts
by Leanne Miller
A cross section of College members think that textbooks, resources and facilities are better today than when they were in school. But educators believe that the public's respect for teaching has spiralled downward. As for students' academic skills? Status quo.
We wanted to know members' impressions of change, how satisfied they are in their careers and what they think are the most important factors in student success.
We learned that they feel highly stressed, that they want more public recognition for their work, that they can spot a potential dropout by the age of 15 and that their training leaves them unprepared for dealing with parents.
“Today's teachers are confident in their teaching skills, their effectiveness, the jobs their schools do and in each other,” says College Registrar Doug Wilson. “Overall, they see teaching as highly meaningful and rewarding – and most wouldn't hesitate to recommend it as a career.”
But they are stressed. By time constraints. By parents' blame. By school politics. By trying to help children from dysfunctional homes. By performance appraisals.
They see more violence, a decline in student behaviour and social skills and less respect among students and parents for teachers.
Waxing nostaligic, respondents to our annual State of the Teaching Profession survey reflected on how education has changed since they attended the same grades they now teach. The comments were as different as the members themselves.
“The biggest change I see is differentiated instruction,” one member said. “We do not have a homogeneous group any more and effective teachers have to be very good at teaching a variety of levels using a variety of strategies.”
“The education system today includes a lot of individualized programming,” echoed another.
“In the old days everyone was taught the same program. Today the individual is taught in a specifically developed fashion, depending on whether they are gifted or mentally challenged.”
Sixty-one per cent felt that textbook quality and resources are better today. Similarly, more than half thought the quality of teaching in their school has improved.
Some criticized students' dependence on technology.
“The perception is that technology is the substitute for education,” said one member. “It's not.”
Overall, respondents considered the Internet neither helpful nor harmful to students' learning. Drugs, sex and family stress or breakdown were seen as detrimental.
Some members shared disturbing anecdotes about diminished respect and increasing violence.
“This year, one of my students told me that he would kill me. That student did not get punished,” recounted one teacher.
Another said, “A student actually pointed a gun at me, so things really have changed.”
Members perceived a decline in students' and parents' respect for teachers. Sixty-five per cent thought students' respect for teachers was better in the past. Opinions about parents' respect followed closely at 62 per cent.
Teachers felt that parents' understanding of their children's classroom experience is coloured by their own memories of school. Thirty-nine per cent felt that parents need to be more aware of all the work teachers do outside the classroom, such as preparing, marking and upgrading their skills.
Changing curriculum and education priorities also came under member scrutiny.
“I believe, with the pressure for standardized testing, we seem to be moving away from developing the whole student in every area,” one member said. “Too much pressure is put on students in reading, writing and math, with little emphasis in developing the student to function successfully in all areas of society.
“I have found that students have very little motivation to think for themselves. I believe this is a direct function of the changing curriculum and the emphasis on schools and school boards to focus solely on testing.”
The more things change …
One-third of those polled said students had better basic writing, reading and math skills in the past. A third thought they were better today. Another third pegged them in the middle.
According to the respondents roughly one-quarter of today's students have special needs or are reading below grade level, despite improved resources.
Even so, many survey participants expressed awe at students' ability to learn.
“I enjoy that the students understand process, the process to articulate clearly how they have learned and how they can connect that to what they have learned,” one teacher said.
“The young people are able to master those skills, even in Grade 2. I look at them and ask, ‘How did that great answer come out of that small body?' Once they establish that knowledge it is really lovely.”
Those polled were also asked about relationships today with parents and between students of different cultural backgrounds. They said there has been no real change in teacher-parent relations or conflict among ethnic or racial groups at school. Overall, teachers think students from different cultures are mixing well, although it happens more at the elementary level than in high schools, they say.
While three-quarters of teachers felt their schools were encouraging parents to become involved in their children's education, teachers see parents' actual involvement as low to moderate. Are parents ensuring their children do their homework? Only 45 per cent of the teachers polled thought so. Just 37 per cent felt that parents were reading to their kids.
Eight of 10 members polled said they were very confident in their job, their school and the teaching profession. They also gave marginally higher marks to the quality of Ontario's education system compared to the last time they were asked in 2003.
Ninety-six per cent said they derived satisfaction from seeing their students do well. In fact, job satisfaction measured high in most categories, from feeling that their jobs are meaningful to participating in extracurricular school activities. Forty per cent, however, thought public recognition was lacking. The vast majority (71 per cent) think the College should do more to inform the public about their work.
Basically, members measure their satisfaction in two ways – by performance and by recognition. Some feel satisfied by what they do, others when they are recognized for doing it.
Either way, nine of 10 are happy teaching and 81 per cent say they'd recommend teaching as a career. (That's up from 67 per cent in 2003.) Most teachers also expect to stay in the same position over the next five years. Of those who think they'll make a change one-third believe they'll move up to become a department head or division leader and one-third mention the possibility of a leave. Only four per cent say they are likely to leave teaching altogether, whereas 68 per cent say not at all.
Stress scores high
Stress plays a greater role in the life of today's educators than most realize. Compared to the general population teachers feel more stress more often than those in other occupations.
Thirteen per cent of teachers say they feel stressed all the time. Compare that to seven per cent of the general public, according to a COMPAS national survey for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health last March.
A further 45 per cent experience stress a few times a week, whereas 29 per cent of the Canadian public feels the same.
Time constraints are the big killer.
Sixty-one per cent of the respondents to the Professionally Speaking survey cited time as their biggest stressor, followed by parents' blame for student underperformance (56 per cent), school politics (46 per cent) and teacher performance appraisals (45 per cent).
Teachers 35 and over seem to find school politics, children from dysfunctional homes and government education policies more stressful than their younger counterparts.
Female more than male teachers reported more stress over time, parents' blame, school politics, performance appraisals and preparing students for EQAO tests.
“The survey data does not conclude that women are more stressed than men,” says COMPAS Inc. president Conrad Winn. “Women may just be more inclined to acknowledge it.”
Factor analysis puts teachers' job stress into three categories: perception of performance (exemplified by parents blaming teachers or presenting concerns); interactions (classroom management and school discipline, for example); and school policy (politics and government policy).
Coincidentally, only 45 per cent thought they were properly trained by education faculties to deal with parents.
Respondents are split on whether getting appropriate resources and materials is a stress. Rating lower as stressors were teaching students whose first language is not English (22 per cent) and interacting with other teachers at school (11 per cent).
Raise age of consent, teachers say
Ontario teachers overwhelmingly support raising the age of consent.
If new legislation passes it would be a criminal offence for an adult to engage in sexual activity with a person under 16.
Five out of six College members support the federal initiative to raise the age of consent to 16 from 14. Seventy-five per cent strongly agree, scoring it five on a five-point scale. Female teachers (85 per cent) favoured the idea more than their male counterparts (77 per cent).
“Clearly, teachers who spend a good part of their daily working lives interacting with teens care about students' safety, protection and emotional development,” says College chair Marilyn Laframboise. “Safeguarding young people against sexual predators makes sense.”
For more analysis and cross tabulations see the full report, available on our website.