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Opinion, Promising Practices, School Community, Teaching

Starting Points in Education

Conversations with Beginning Teachers

If you’re find yourself needing some reassurance about the future of public education in this country, I would suggest spending time in a faculty of education. My prediction is that you won’t have to hang out long before you are able to breathe a sigh of relief that our children and our education systems are in good hands. 

I’m not saying that the structure of teacher education is perfect. I believe that there are many things about teacher preparation that can and should be examined: course offerings, overall program design, length of initial preparation and even that strange relationship that exists between field-based practice and university-centered research and knowledge. There is a good deal of room for discussion in all of these areas. There are important conversations to have around these and other aspects of the way that we get candidates ready for a career in the profession. 

These structural and infrastructural issues aside, there is something about the candidates, themselves, that give me a sense of hope and confidence in the future of our schools. 

When I first entered the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto back in 1983, I really didn’t have a sense of what I was getting into. If someone had asked about my teaching philosophy (I’m sure that I had to include something about that in my original application) I would likely have said something about helping kids learn, and how education was an important part of living a full and satisfying life. But that would have been the extent of it! 

But in the early 80’s, there were still plenty of jobs to be had. In fact, in areas of suburban growth, some school boards were hiring upwards of 500 teachers every year. I know that growth wasn’t the same in every region of the country, but if you wanted to teach full-time in Canada, there were jobs to be had. Today, however, job prospects across the country are less than bright and many young graduates choose to leave Canada to get experience and a regular paycheck. 

And employment isn’t the only challenge for new graduates. On the other end of the process, Canadian universities are, themselves, very selective about who actually gets into their programs. Academic success and experience in teaching and learning contexts are still important keys to admission. Add to that the fact that questions about teacher quality and school effectiveness have become favourite talking points for both politicians and talk show hosts. Finally, schools themselves are under great pressure to use a rather limited rubric of success to demonstrate year-over-year progress.

Yet despite these institutional and social gatekeepers (or, perhaps, because of them?), Canadians of various ages and experience profiles are still coming to the profession. And they are coming with a sense of resilience, perspective and a sense of what it means to be a teacher. It has taken years for me to develop some of these same habits of mind.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself. In the final episode of this season’s Teaching Out Loud podcast series, you’ll meet three teacher education students from across the country. Monica Batac, Holly Thiel, and Michelle Horst speak confidently and articulately about their hopes, dreams and sources of inspiration as they prepare to enter full-time practice and take on the challenges of teaching in the 21st century. Their voices, I believe, are representative of those across Canada who are poised to play an active role in the transformation of schooling and education. You’ll hear confidence, but you’ll also hear a sense of vulnerability. You’ll hear hope, but you’ll also hear an awareness and appreciation of the challenges that face today’s teachers and students. You’ll recognize some of their local context, but you’ll also hear the heart they have for diversity and global literacy.

I think that you’ll agree that these are the voices that we need as we move deeper into new conversations about teaching, learning and this place we call school. I think that you’ll agree that with voices like these, the future is bright!

Have a listen. There’s always lots to talk about when you’re Teaching Out Loud!