Two years’ teacher training in Ontario?

September 1, 2011

Premier Dalton McGuinty recently announced that a re-elected Liberal Government will extend teacher training to two years, effective immediately.    My initial reaction to this announcement was one of satisfaction.  When I graduated with a B.Ed I was so clueless that I didn’t even know it.  It wasn’t until after a master’s that I came to understand what education is.  It took that extra year.

But then I thought a little more.

In the summer of ‘72 Bet and I were a week away from our wedding when a pair of telephone calls turned things upside down.  The first was from the University of Windsor, offering me admission to first year law.  The other call the same evening came from the registrar of the Faculty of Education at Queen’s, asking me when I would be arriving to complete my registration.

While obsessing about law school all spring, I had clean forgotten about the application to education at my alma mater.  A corporation had recruited me out of my B.A. class, moved me to Ottawa, and was grooming me for management, promising  the earth. But they had lied to me three times in the last three weeks, and their string was running out.

So it came down to a question of logistics:  could we handle a move to Windsor?  could we manage a trip back to Kingston for another year?

At that pivotal point in our lives, one extra year sounded manageable and three or four did not.  After years of construction jobs to pay my way through school I very much wanted a paycheck, but married students qualified for student loans, so we could swing another year.

Life is great for newly-weds in Kingston.  Towards the end of the spring term the principal of a new school in Smiths Falls found me a spot, and Bet landed a job at the Medical Centre opening in Newboro.  We moved home to Forfar.

In the fall I started with a grade eight class and discovered that I loved kids. I liked my colleagues, the work, even the parents, and they seemed to like me.  It was an honour and a privilege to be a teacher.

But the salary schedule sent me a clear message:  I held minimal qualifications for the job.  With effort, though, I could improve my pay.   For the next twelve years, winter and summer, I took courses.

In the process of thickening my wallet I developed a more thorough understanding of English literature, then education, and later educational administration.  Before long I moved to the secondary school across town, then became head of English at another, and later vice-principal for a while.  By all reports it was a pretty good career.

But if, on that pivotal evening, the Queen’s registrar had told me I would have had to remain a student for two more years before earning a salary, I probably would have picked law or stayed in business.

My suggestion to Mr. McGuinty:  kids need the very best young teachers, not just the ones whose parents can afford an extra year of university.  Keep the one-year full-time course for teacher qualification, but adjust the salary grid to make the second year, full- or part-time, the only logical step for the young professional.  That way the penniless-but-eager candidate won’t be lost to the school system because of finances.

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