Way too many teachers

Way too many teachers

by Moira MacDonald

graduating teachers

Schools superintendent Michael Sereda is in a position that might be considered enviable. But he doesn’t think so. Since at least 2005, Mr. Sereda has faced the annual task of filling a modest number of teaching jobs at his southwestern Ontario school board, choosing from a landslide of applications from certified teachers eager to fill those posts.

“It would not be an exaggeration to say the applications we receive are in the thousands every year,” says Mr. Sereda, executive superintendent of human resources services for the Thames Valley District School Board in London, Ontario.

For the current school year, he had 161 positions to fill, and many of those were only part-time teaching contracts. Even for teachers trying to get on the board’s supply teaching list, competition is stiff. The supply list is considered a stepping stone, after a minimum of three years, to a permanent position.

“It’s nuts,” says a frustrated Mr. Sereda. “You get these poor kids [applying] who are absolutely fabulous and I can’t offer them anything. Even suggesting hope is tough.”

The situation he describes is but one symptom of the worst teacher oversupply situation in the country. A few other provinces, such as British Columbia and Nova Scotia, also have been coping with oversupply. But by sheer numbers, Ontario tops them all.

Over the last five years, Ontario has seen an average of 4,500 teachers retiring annually – but another 12,000 new people are getting certified to teach. About 9,000 of the new teachers are graduates of education faculties at Ontario universities. Besides retirements, other circumstances also cause jobs to open up, but taking everything into account, each year at least 4,000 more new teachers are entering Ontario’s system looking for work than there are positions for them.

The effect of an ever-growing pool of job seekers is reflected in a 2010 survey by the Ontario College of Teachers (PDF), the provincial body that licenses teachers. Most neophyte teachers aren’t getting full-time jobs, or anything close. In 2006, 30 percent of teachers in their first year after graduation were either unemployed or underemployed. By 2010, that proportion had more than doubled, to 68 percent. Nearly one in four new teachers got no work at all, up from just three percent in 2006.

“It’s like your life is on hold,” says Yvonne Ringler. Since graduating in 2005 from Lakehead University’s one-year bachelor of education program, the 30-year-old has worked a variety of daily supply and long-term supply jobs in a school board east of Toronto and even taught overseas. But she has been unable to secure a full-time teaching position. Two of her friends are in exactly the same boat.

The irony is that barely 14 years ago Ontario was bracing itself for the mother of all teacher shortages. “It is kind of a roller-coaster story,” says Frank McIntyre, manager of human resources for the Ontario College of Teachers, who has been tracking teacher numbers for well over a decade.

In 1998 Ontario was expecting to lose, by 2008, as many as 78,000 teachers through retirement, out of a total teaching corps of 171,500.  And teachers did retire – but with 62,000 leaving over the decade, it was not as many as the experts had predicted.

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