Ontario cuts teacher-training spaces, doubles program length, to deal with teacher glut

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Ontario is joining other Canadian provinces in doubling the length of time it takes to become a teacher, to two years from one.

The change is part of a sweeping reform of the teacher-training curriculum that includes mandatory training on how to work with students of diverse backgrounds and those with special needs, a doubling of the amount of practice-teaching time and training on the use of technology in the classroom, the Toronto Star reports.

Equally significant, Ontario teachers' colleges will cut enrolment in half, to 4,500 a year, in hopes of reducing the surplus of unemployed teachers as school boards tighten their belts and the number of pupils shrink. Education faculties will see their funding cut by 20 per cent, the Star said.

“By modernizing our teacher education program, we can give students a greater depth of knowledge and also give them more opportunities to find jobs in their chosen field,” Education Minister Liz Sandals said as she announced the changes at a Toronto public school Wednesday.

The Globe and Mail reported the Ontario College of Teachers certifies 11,000 new teachers a year, with roughly 7,500 coming from the province's teacher-training faculties.

[ Related: Teachers urge province to reverse funding cuts ]

A survey by the college of 2011 graduates from Ontario faculties and U.S. border colleges found one third were unable to find jobs in their field, compared with just three per cent in 2006, the Globe said. Some can't even find supply-teaching assignments as substitutes.

Brad Duguid, Ontario's Minister of Training, College and Universities, said he was served at a Windsor restaurant last week by a teaching graduate who told him she couldn't find a classroom job, the Star said.

“She should be at the front of the class instead of serving me beer and pizza,” he said. “We need to turn the tap down on the supply of teachers and bring it more in line with demand.”

Initial reaction from teachers' organizations has been mixed.

The Ontario College of Teachers, which regulates the profession, said in a news release that it welcomes the extension of the initial teacher-training program.

"A longer program means that new teachers will spend more time in professional and practical settings and receive additional specialized training to reflect the diversity of Ontario's learners," said Michael Salvatori, the college's CEO and registrar. "New teachers, their students and the public interest will be well served."

But the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association was not happy.

"Today's announcement misses the mark on the most pressing issue facing teachers today, which is the inability of thousands of qualified teachers to get permanent full-time jobs," association president Kevin O'Dwyer said in a news release.

"Expanding the length of faculty of education programs to two years is not necessary and will do nothing to help those certified teachers who are currently looking for work."

The apparent surplus of teachers is not just an Ontario problem. The Globe noted that last year 2,700 teachers were vying for 800 positions in B.C. school systems. Nova Scotia produces 900 freshly-minted teachers a year while the government predicts it will need an average of only 281 new teachers annually for the next five years.

Contrast the situation with a 1997 a forecast in Statistics Canada's Education Quarterly Review that a wave of teachers retiring in the early 21st century would fuel demand for new ones.

[ Related: Ontario secondary school teachers ratify contract changes ]

"The most important consequences of this phenomenon will be felt as the year 2005 approaches," the analysis concluded. "An increase in the demand for teachers at the beginning of the next century can be expected ...

"Furthermore, in most provinces, supply teachers and persons who have previously worked in the teaching field and are currently unemployed should be able to find teaching jobs in the coming years."

But the article also included a caveat that the surplus of teachers in Canada that existed at the time would continue if education faculties graduated new teachers at the current rate., though in Ontario it was expected to be in balance.