As I read Sachin Maharaj’s op ed piece: “We are wasting our young teaching talent”, I reflected on how times have changed since I became a teacher. When I completed my teacher training programme, there were only 3 universities in Ontario at which that could be done – U of T, Western, and Queen’s. Now, there are teacher training programmes at 16 Ontario universities. As well, those who want to become teachers and who are not accepted into one of these 16 programmes can obtain certification to teach in Ontario by attending a US border college or an international university that has received recognition from the Ontario government.
When I graduated, the number of teachers new to the profession was just about equal to the number of teachers projected to retire in that year. Now, the number of new teachers each year far exceeds the number of positions that will be available through retirement and teachers going on leave. Not only are there more teachers entering the profession, but there are fewer students in Ontario schools than there were when I started so the oversupply of new teachers is even more apparent.
When I began my teaching career, those of us who applied for teaching positions usually got a job. We were hired on a ‘green contract’ – a probationary contract which lasted for three years. Each year, we’d receive a letter in April thanking us for the work we had done and informing us that our services would likely not be needed for the following year. And each May, we’d usually get a letter letting us know that the board had a position for us in September. After three years, the green contract was replaced by a white one. We had, we believed, job security then – no more worries about whether we’d have a teaching gig in September.
Yet where we were on the seniority list and what subjects we were qualified to teach governed whether we would have a job the following year. And it did not matter how long we had been teaching for our particular board. If we were low man on the totem pole vis a vis seniority in our subject area and in the system, we might not have a job in September. I remember the year an exemplary tech teacher with over 20 years experience with my board was informed that there would be no position for him the following year. And I remember the year that 13 teachers at my school received the ‘April letter’. “Thanks for your work. It’s been a slice. We promise to give you a good letter of recommendation. Good luck in your job search.” They were energetic, innovative, creative and truly gifted educators who received the news that this was not of paramount importance. Seniority was.
Maharaj’s article dealt specifically with Regulation 274 which came into effect in Ontario 3 years after I retired. As I read and researched, I was disheartened by the impact of this regulation on the future of education and of students in Ontario. The intent of the regulation was to make hiring more transparent and to do away with ‘nepotism’ in hiring practices. I called it the ‘what have you done for us lately’ syndrome where what you could do meant as much if not more than what you were qualified to teach. Think of the emphasis being covertly placed on extracurricular contributions to the school. “What can you do which will make our school more attractive to potential students than the school down the road [or across town]? – Can you coach hockey or football? Have you produced music organizations which have consistently won at Music Fest Canada or Kiwanis Festival competitions? Do you have experience mounting plays or musicals?” And then there was the method of hiring which I called ‘having a rabbi’. You might get hired if you already knew someone in administration in the school or board. It was not the quality of your work as a teacher that mattered but who you knew.
Regulation 274 was ostensibly brought in to mitigate that hiring culture. And while the intention was good, the practice has not been. New graduates from teacher training programmes must first apply to and be placed on a board’s supply teacher list. Then they must accrue enough days on that list to move them up in seniority on that list. They have to get in line and wait. Once they have moved up sufficiently on the seniority list, then they can apply to be placed on a different supply list which makes long term occasional teacher positions available. And again, they must then move up in seniority on that particular list. So they must again get in line and wait. Once they have moved up in seniority on the LTO list, they can apply for contract positions for which they are qualified as these might become open.
Imagine someone who truly feels called to be a teacher, who is young and energetic and creative and who has spent 4 or 5 years in university in order to become qualified and certified to be a teacher in Ontario. That person must then jump through the hoops created by Regulation 274 before they can become a teacher on contract to any school board in the province. From the time that person enters university until the time when they might potentially get a contact to teach for any school board might be as long as 10 years. And in the midst of trying to accumulate enough teaching days as a supply teacher, they must find a way to support themselves and possibly pay off any debt incurred during their university studies. So these teachers are caught in a double bind – don’t get an outside job in order to support yourself in hopes of getting sufficient supply teaching days in order to support yourself and to improve your seniority or get an outside job in order to pay the bills and hope that you will still be able to fit in enough supply teaching days to improve your seniority.
When I started teaching, school boards used to project the number of teaching positions they would have to fill based upon potential retirements, teachers going on leave, and teachers leaving the profession for other reasons. Then the boards would hire en masse – they would pool hire. And that year, the projections were totally out of whack. Many of my cohort who were hired found themselves without a specific job in September and so became a sort of in-school supply teacher. And at the end of the year, they were let go. Many of them chose to leave teaching because there were no jobs in the offing. And in the following years, fewer students enrolled in consecutive teacher training programmes as the job prospects were not promising.
Regulation 274, in effect, has the same potential to discourage young people from choosing the teaching profession. And it has the potential to discourage those who are already on a board’s supply list from choosing to continue in the profession. It seems, to me, doubtful that those seeking to become teachers now will be able to afford to wait to become fully fledged teachers [on a contract].
So, there are now more teachers graduating and being certified each year to teach fewer students. And they must deal with the impact of Regulation 274 as they hope to have a career in the teaching profession. And they must deal with this while striving to find the way to express themselves as educators within the confines of the current educational system. [This is a whole other issue.]
Consider the effect that Regulation 274 will have on our students and the future of our world if we lose new and gifted educators who have the ability to inspire students to seek their own answers to the issues which affect our world.