Teacher’s college blues

It’s a difficult time to be an education student


A student in Scott Library at York U.

I was sitting at a desk with four boys in their applied history class. Instead of diving straight into the political issues of World War Two, I started by comparing it to a schoolyard fight where everybody begins by taking their friends’ sides.

After this comparison, the boys were far more receptive to the details. When they were able to recall it almost perfectly on a test many days later, I was proud of them and surprised at myself.

That was three years ago when I was volunteering at my old high school and considering high school teaching as a career option. It was a time before lesson planning, hiring freezes and politics. It was a time of blissful naivety.

At some point during the past few months I found myself disillusioned by teacher’s college here at York University. It turns out I’m not alone. My classmates and I are feeling pressure from all sides, including the issues that come with the recently passed Bill 115, which freezes Ontario teachers’ wages and allows the government to intervene in school board negotiations with the unions.

On top of that, we are also constantly reminded about how new teachers like us will never get jobs. It may or may not be true, but it sure is demoralizing. Some of us are considering backup options. Do we want to stay at home or go abroad where there may be more jobs? Some of us are reconsidering the profession altogether, feeling we may be meant for other fields.

I suppose it’s normal to be disappointed with the realities of one’s dream career, and that politics, wages and hiring freezes aren’t issues limited to teaching. But it’s still difficult to read about how teachers are viewed by the public and about how hard it is to get hired without taking it to heart. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve discussed these issues with fellow students. Here are our stories.

H.L. completed his Master of Science before teacher’s college. He’s enjoyed the practice teaching, but is disappointed overall. “Between low job prospects and learning theories that aren’t applicable, it’s in need of a major facelift,” he says. “Almost all of our courses are a waste of time and money.”

R.C. did her undergraduate degree at York University. In between courses, she works and volunteers. She is learning time management and leadership, but admits to feeling burnt out already. “I’m not enjoying teacher’s college as much as I thought I might,” she says. “There’s a lot of unnecessary courses and not enough time spent on lesson planning,” she adds.

C.C. worked in the performing arts and completed several shows and musicals before she realized she wanted to teach drama. Like others, she is disillusioned by the politics in teaching, but that doesn’t stop her from wanting to share her experiences with students, so she carries on.

When I was accepted to the program, I was over the moon. Today, I constantly feel drained. I wish I could have more time in the classroom honing my skills instead of worrying how many more words I need to fill my minimum page counts on assignments. I tell myself this is all part of the motions I must go through to prepare for my career.

Still, teacher’s college has been good to me. I’m going through it with a solid group of people who support each other, accommodating instructors and a fantastic mentor teacher. For those times that can’t go by fast enough, being surrounded by those people really makes a difference.

There may be reality checks along the way, but I’m sure all teachers have gone through the same things, so I plan to keep moving ahead. After all, nothing makes me feel more in my element than being in front of a classroom. Perhaps with some luck and skill, I’ll be able to make that same World War Two as a schoolyard fight comparison as a certified teacher, hopefully sooner than later.

Yuni Kim (@YuniKimchi on Twitter) is an education student at York University. Are you a teaching student or considering an education degree? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section.


Teacher’s college blues

  1. I went to teacher’s college 3 years ago. The little time wasting assignments were horrible – there was absolutely no point to them (except to teach us how to waste our future students’ time too!?).

    I am not employed as a teacher. I volunteered my butt off, but never got anywhere near close to am interview let alone a job. After having my daughter earlier in the year, I FINALLY got a call for an interview. I hadn’t volunteered in at least 6 months (bad pregnancy), so that was demoralizing. Why did I even bother volunteering so much? I didn’t do the interview though, as a premature baby has been more important than my dream career at the moment.

    I would love to be a teacher still. LOVE. But I do not want to move, and I do not want to put my family at risk anymore financially in order to volunteer in order to “get my face out there”. It breaks my heart when I go into schools and see teachers who hate their jobs and treat the kids like crap… I want their job. It also kills me when I see teachers who can’t spell who get to teach kids, and I’m stuck being the free slave in the classroom. Sigh. I’m burnt out.

  2. Difficult Time to be a Teacher. As an OSSTF site president I can say this is a pivotal moment in education in Ontario. Bill 115 is an attack on younger teachers- an attempt to strip them not only of benefits, gratuity, pay grid and even cost of living raises, but more importantly, the Bill strips them of the right to negotiate a contract with their employer.The Gov will dictate your working and pay conditions if this Bill is not repealed.

    We will fight this Bill in every possible way, many of us doing it for the younger teachers because we want them to have the same working condition that we have had- until now.

    At my school 3 LTO’s are in jeopardy of losing seniority due to the ridiculous OECTA MoU that forces seniority lists on all boards as of Dec. 31.

    On a positive note, my school has at least 12 teachers in their 50’s who are within 5 years of retirement. There will be jobs for young teachers who make the decision that they will stick it out no matter what- and they will be great teachers because their hearts are into it.

    • When can we hear the actual facts of what teachers’ “cost of living” raises are? The starting pay rate is well above minimum wage. Each year that a teacher stays, they get a raise between 3 and 4 THOUSAND dollars up to a maximum of 10 years. Dropping the sick days from 20 to 10 doesn’t sound so bad when the District School Board of Niagara uses each day, on average, 250 supply teachers, each getting $258. Each day, on average, your sick days cost the taxpayers, on average, $64,500. Every day!!! Those numbers get even worse when math workshops, like the one held on Nov 28th, remove teachers from the classrooms using even more supply teachers. What are professional development days for?

    • So, OSSTF does not support the new hiring policy?

      I’m having a difficult time with the hiring policy. I am a military wife and teacher, and the government frequently moves our family (4 postings in the past 5 years)

      I became a teacher 10 years ago, and since then have had contracts in two Ontario boards and have accumulated 7 years experience in fairly tough assignments. This year, I have moved again, and failed to make the supply list.

      I have an M.Ed, successful teaching experience, admin experience, leadership experience, and 3 specialists- one in a more in-demand area.

      Since seniority only refers to time with the board you are applying to, not time teaching- I will fall to the back of any list— when I make the list, and then I will not be able to access any job opportunities for 14 months. Hence, my career is over.

      I find it discriminatory. In no other profession would someone have 10 years experience as a plumber and then be forced to do a half-pay apprenticeship for over a year. It’s insulting and the public needs to be more aware about its tenets. No one would want to see the “big” wages given away to the person who waits the longest :S

      I have appealed to many media outlets to tell my story- and everyone is so caught up in wage freeze fog to give a darn.

      • I hear you Happe. It is crazy – I have 20+ years experience and since moving back to Ontario from abroad, where I spent almost 7 years teaching in the Middle East, the best I can get is sessional lecturing gigs at local colleges and supply work at my local Catholic school board. Luckily, I got onto the supply list at the board BEFORE Bill 115/Reg 274. Since then I have failed to make another supply list and not made the LTO list.
        The big irony for me was, when I returned I knew it would be a few months before I would get a position so I wrote and published a textbook for a grade 12 social studies course. It is a good book that is being used across the country. However, can I get a position teaching this course in publicly funded schools? Don’t be silly – and it kills me to know that teachers far less skilled and far less knowledgeable than me are nonetheless earning $85K per year using my materials, which in most cases I have received only about $50 for, as in far more cases than I would like after a teacher has a copy of the student book (and mine has lots of good exercises, is printed on A4 size paper, and is printed with black ink on white paper) and teachers’ guide they really don’t need anything else from me as their photocopier will do the rest for them. Oh, and don’t get me started with the Trillium List reviewers either – they get to review books, but in most cases you never see the review (as it is confidential ministry property) and so they are really operating in a completely unaccountable sphere. Incredible.

  3. There’s no purpose in having teachers college investing in pedagogy skills if those skills will have atrophied by the time you reach the classroom, factoring into reality that everyone’s ability to accommodate volunteering eventually maxes out.

    I graduate from Brock Universities ConEd program in 2011. I completed a degree in Economics, Mathematics and Statistics from McMaster, then a Masters in Economic Policy Analyst.
    I’ve gone almost 2 years without a teaching job interview. The vast majority of my non french teaching education grads can relate. Admittedly, this year, I have neglected volunteering as I’ve maxed out my ability to provide more free labor, in addition to the 4 years I’ve already contributed, to classrooms. The labor market for teachers has been mismanaged to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if a class action lawsuit is brought to the OCT and MTCU.

    There’s no purpose in having teachers college investing in pedagogy skills if those skills will have atrophied by the time you reach the classroom, factoring into reality that everyone’s ability to accommodate volunteering eventually maxes out.

  4. What I hear in this article regarding the course work for prospestive teachers echoes my experiences at university almost 30 years ago. I felt that with the exception of practical courses aimed at actual teaching practices, the curriculum was of little value to me when I actually graduated and went out into my own classroom.

    Being taught how to teach by someone who only spent the minimum 2 years in the classroom required to obtain permanent certification was like the blind leading the blind. The professor knew plently about the theory of teaching mathematics but very little on its practical application to the classroom.

    I can honestly say I did not receive value for the money spent on tuition and books. As a side note, after tiring of the political side of being a teacher I left the profession, went back to university and became an accountant.

  5. I switched careers 10 years ago and became a teacher (after working in the outdoors for 20 years). Sounds like the experience has not changed since then–yes, there were many courses that were a total waste of time, and the reality of teaching is a lot different than what we did in class. The people in my group were excellent and I remain in contact with many of them.

    We lived in a small town in BC where it was tough to get hired–I found some .75 work for a few years but declining enrollment and budget cuts meant there was no more work, so we took a big chance and took a job at an international school in the Middle East. Was a huge change for our family, but the work was steady and the travel opportunities were great. We later moved to China, and now we live in Switzerland. The teaching is fabulous and I no longer have to worry about strikes, union rules, and budget cuts. There are jobs out there for good teachers–you just need to be willing to find them!

  6. Education in its present form in Canada, still has as its essential ingredients, the concepts implemented when Egerton Ryerson exerted his influence on Upper Canada in the mid-1800s. There has been a lot of moving of classroom desks and chairs, and the taking down of classroom walls and then replacing those walls. And that is supposed to be justified by the coming and going of the latest fad educational theories; and they do keep coming through the doors almost as fast as the latest manufactured ‘Back Street Boys’ et al pop groups.

    And then those theories collapse of their own impracticality. And ‘education’, abhorring a vacuum, immediately rushes in with a new set of theories and expensive textbooks; monies which would have been better spent otherwise. Education practices can be described as ‘jumping up and down and calling that progress’!

    Teachers Colleges have long-been institutions which seem to be established to provide jobs for those who have clawed and climbed over each other to flee the actual job of facing snotty-nosed kids in the classrooms so that those ‘bright lights’ can then illuminate the minds of aspiring teachers. Much mindless ‘cutting and pasting’ tasks of busywork are assigned and this is accompanied by copious amounts of bafflegab; ie. the latest’buzz words’.

    Rarely are Teachers College students actually exposed to sound research findings which would guide the choice of educational methods. Thus, new ‘teachers’ come out of those Colleges unable to actually teach reading or math because there is no depth of understanding underlying those subjects.

    The best experience of Teachers College is that after the newby has been shown how to construct a lesson plan, then that neophyte goes into actual classrooms and faces students. The old ‘school of hard knocks’ is still the best way to learn how to do things – including ‘teaching’. ‘Docendo Discimus’ – We learn by teaching!

    With the advent of modern technology, and with the increasing availability of programs such as the Khan Academy, and with universities offering free courses, the present bricks and mortar, one teacher at the front of a class of kids – that model is, for the most part, in need of radical re-thinking. To a more or less extent, we should be looking at a model that is less reliant on yellow school buses and the housing of students in $25 million school buildings and searching out ways to complement that which Egerton Ryerson envisioned. Adopting the methods of the increasing presence of ‘virtual high schools’ would be a start.

  7. Ah teachers college… the worst of the worst in the hallowed halls of higher education.

    I recently read an article on how parents are concerned about the cost of education, that’s what they should be concerned about. The universities are the problem causing it to be a difficult time to be a student in general. They care more about preserving their own reputation and image than they do about truth, honour or hard work. I’ve had bad experiences in every attempt I have made at higher education, its left me disgusted and bitter.

    My brief time at teachers college has destroyed me; I’ve become a pitiful coward. The brief time I was there I saw such faults in logic and an utter lack of reason. In 2011 I went briefly and was expelled for something I did not do. I was not allowed to defend myself and my repeated attempts at getting an appeal were ignored. I was discarded as a matter of convince for the school, to save the faculty the embarrassment of going back to the board and saying that they had made an error, that they had assumed and acted without evidence, without justification, without even speaking to me. The funny thing is why I got in this mess is I told them how I edited my own work. In essence I was expelled for editing my tedious assignments.

    I was expelled for caring about function and flow; they twisted my words and discarded me. I did not violate any written or oral rule. My high crime was that I sat in my room alone at my laptop recording myself as I worked out the way my document would sound. In short I used to care about the product I would put out. Professors used to compliment my writing style, strange how things change.

    I’ve always believed that logic, reason and fact could overcome any obstacle; it seems that I was an utter fool. It doesn’t matter that what they accused me of was not possible, in some cases rather comical. It was easier for the school to discard me, to ignore me. I fought to even be acknowledged for over a year; I was ignored or worse granted lip service and patronized. From those I went to for help.

    I attempted to get help from the government, the ministry of colleges and training sent me an email saying and I quote “that each university is an independent entity with full authority to determine its own administrative processes and requirements” in short they confess to giving schools a blank cheque to do as they please. Where is the oversight when dealing with public funds? Where is the system which ensures they don’t put their image above people’s rights? Where is the accountability to the tax payers which should exist for anything that receives public funds? No image and the all holy ism is all that matters anymore. I sit here at my keyboard broken.

    Years of work wasted so someone else can maintain their image. My sanity is slipping away. My life has become a movement between two extremes, numbing sadness and near psychotic anger. I sit alone, rejected, dejected and discarded simply broken. My views have been shattered leaving me a bitter husk feigning humanity. I wonder will I find a solution or will I give into the gathering darkness.

    I note the syntactical errors, I simply no longer care.

  8. I graduated from OISE in 2009 with a growing feeling of unease and uncertainty. As a ‘mature’ student looking to change my career, I muddled through the repetitive courses, sat through the ‘social justice’ propaganda, and hoped that my ‘life experience’ and a Master’s degree would help me land a decent job enlightening children’s minds. I was able to land supplying gigs at a couple of private schools for two years, which never led to anything permanent. I couldn’t even get close to an interview with a public school board and the situation was similar for the majority of my classmates. In the end, I needed full-time work, so I went back to my original career.

    In my opinion, the game is rigged. I eventually came to realize that the only graduates that landed a full-time teaching job were ones whose parents, close friends or relatives were in the profession themselves. I know that nepotism happens everywhere, but this isn’t just some random job – it requires skill and love for what you do. I’m not saying that every teacher who got in through the back door is useless, but they might not be the best of the bunch.

    The sad part about this nonsense is that the boards are not hiring people who really want to become teachers and make a difference. Obviously, nobody is putting the students first.

  9. As in all sectors of education, students must start seeing themselves as consumers that have a contractual relationship with the institution. That is the legal reality and not right wing ideology. If the courses are not as good as they would like either as preparation for teaching careers or as preparation to have greater and more transferrable skills then they must rise up and demand something different. That is what student unions should be focused on.

    John Boon J.D.
    Author of
    Education Futures
    Commmercial Reality, Law, Innovation and Opportunity
    See Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

  10. I know a lot of underemployed teachers. I think there should be mandatory retirements for teachers to allow new blood to come into the system. Also, retired teachers should stay retired from the field, and not take supply positions from those needing real work experience. Lastly, universities should stop acting like puppy mills and warn students about the real prospects of finding a teaching job in the current market. Unless you come with a Sciences, Mathematics, or French educational background, you’re chance of finding quick employment in teaching is dim.

  11. I pursued a career change in my fifties and was admitted to teachers College at Queen’s University at 54. I had a back injury and it took two years rather than one to complete the programme. It was a stressful experience but I survived. I am not sure whether I learned much that had relevance to the real world of the classroom in Toronto where a large number of students have parents that are recent immigrants. I graduated in 1996 at the hight of the Harris cutbacks. There were no jobs just like today.

    I knew that I had to get started immediately if I was to be taken seriously at an age when most teachers retire. Two weeks later I was teaching at a middle school in the Seoul public school system. I stayed for one semester and was offered a position at Honam University to teach English and Social Science.

    I returned to Canada in 2001 and was offered a position by one of the boards at 58. The pendulum had swung the opposite way and now there was a perceived shortage after many older teachers were offered early retirement incentives. and more accepted the package than was anticipated. I was hired at 58 and I retired at 65.

    I enjoyed working with the the students, but the administration would have been equally at home running a jail. The students often used this metaphor. As a teacher I started to feel like an inmate myself and often felt I had more in common with them than the school administration. But I survived against all odds for 8 years, teaching in inner city schools, working with students no one else wanted to work with teaching courses no one else was interested in teaching.

    I dont know whether they saved me or I saved them. At 66 I was offered a position to teach in China. Teaching in China is a once in a life time opportunity because unlike in Canada teachers are among the mostly highly regarded in society and students and parents value experience and education above anything else. I may still go back next semester and work for 2 more years. In a way I have been lucky having had a second career as a teacher at a time when most teachers retire. But the system defies all logic and reason. If it was not for the students being grounded I might have lost my mind. There is opportunity teaching in Asia at all levels from kindergarten to University. What is Canada’s loss is their gain.

  12. I am currently an undergraduate student and pondering about my post Bachelor’s degree options. I have considered pursuing a B.Ed., but after reading everyone’s firsthand experience, my hopes in becoming a teacher are dampened. I thank everyone who shared their experiences; it has served as a warning for the younger generation of aspiring teachers.

    My experiences during my elementary school years were absolutely frustrating. The elementary teachers of the baby boomer age were outrageously unqualified to teach math and science. In a discussion in my grade 3 science class, the teacher noddingly agreed with a student’s statement that gravity is caused by a magnet inside the Earth’s core. Only to find out that same evening from my father that this was completely false. In grade 4 math, we were incorrectly taught how to calculate mean. In this rather bizarre method, there was no addition or division involved. Go figure. My mother was irritated that students were misled by a teacher who did not possess a basic high school math background. It led to a series of phone calls between the students’ parents questioning the teacher’s competence. It gets worse. In grade 6, the teacher assigned a difficult math problem without even discussing the concept in class. The next day, she admitted to the class that she did not know how to solve the problem herself. She openly told us that she required help from the principal. The evidence of the principal’s handwriting on the chalkboard proved that she was deemed deficient in basic elementary school mathematics. In grades 7 and 8, we were self-taught science because I was in a split class in both years. In grade 7, we were assigned text book readings which were never discussed. Tests were written by each student which were photocopied and redistributed by the teacher (by the way, the teacher never reviewed the tests for any errors). When I look back, I find this method of teaching (or the lack of teaching) very alarming. There is no excuse for a suburban elementary school in a high socioeconomic area to have such incompetent teachers. The public education system needs the many hard-working and extremely qualified B.Ed. graduates to replace the unqualified and apathetic teachers.

    High school was a refreshing change. School was very enjoyable from that point. My teachers (young and old) were well-qualified to teach the subjects. They discussed the concepts before and after assigning homework. They were open to address questions and concerns. With my hard work, persistence, and my teachers’ dedication, I excelled in mathematics and sciences. Despite the appalling math and science elementary education, I am now pursuing a biochemistry degree. I am ever so grateful for my high school teachers for opening the wonderful world of math and science to me.

  13. To introduce myself, I have a diploma in education from McGill. I am certified in English and English Second Language. I got a job right away. I put everything I had into teaching ESL. I started in secondary and was forced into elementary to keep on working. In mt ninth year, one of my sixth graders had me arrestd for assault. He said I strangled him. It took me another seven years, and psychologists and psychiatrists, to win a court cast that set a precedent for other teachers in Quebec. I am on Paxil and Imovane.
    I think McGill did a good job preparing me. I did my student teaching in a French school and an English school. I felt at hime in the English school, but in Quebec there are fewer and fewer jobs with English school boards. Students in the English schools come from a variety of backgrounds. That made it more interesting for me. With the language situation in Quebec, it is tough for an anglophone to be accepted by the students, the teachers, and the parents. It only takes on student to wreck a classroom. In my worst year, I had nineteen groups, five levels, and three different schools. Some other teachers considered me as their coffee break and free period. Burnout followed burnout. Finally, a major depression.
    While treating, I wrote a short story, a non-fiction article and a novel. All have been published.
    Thank you for reading my comment.

  14. Yuni, I’d like to start off by saying that I have really enjoyed reading some of your articles in regards to Teachers College. It was a relief to see that issues that I had encountered at OISE are common throughout other schools. Here is my concern with Teachers College (OISE to be exact):

    Administration knows that Teacher Candidates are there one year and out the next. What does it mean? Well once they get your tuition they DO NOT care about your opinions or concerns. The administration at OISE are beyond comfortable with the nice salaries that they are given and don’t care to rock the boat or take on more work then they already have.

    The best way I can describe Teachers College is “busy-work”. One-third of the material and education you receive at Teachers College is relevant/helpful and will make you a better teacher. The rest, they just put together useless assignments to justify the tuition that we paid.

    You rarely ever meet teachers who speak positively in regards to Teachers College. What does this tell us? It’s a broken, cash-grab of a system with administrators who either have too much pride to take advice from its students or just don’t care.

    I chose to leave a comment so that hopefully future Teacher Candidates might see this as a warning: Be prepared for a frustrating experience and very time-consuming although many of the courses could be covered in 3-5 day workshops. Teacher Colleges assume you are entering the program with lots of money and they don’t care that many of its students are drowning in debt and will have a life during their time as Teacher Candidates.