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Those who can... teach

Imperfect system designed to put the best in the classroom

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These days, it seems some people are eager to offer their opinions about the state of teaching and teachers.

You will hear them make declarations such as: "Teachers don't make any money, there aren't any teaching jobs," and, too often, they conclude with the rhetorical statement: "Why would anyone want to be a teacher today, anyway?"

I can't adequately respond to the last question because people choose to become teachers for a variety of reasons. Truth be told, there are probably almost as many reasons "why" as there are teachers.

However, I can say very few people are choosing to get into teaching for the money, even though the teaching salaries in Manitoba are pretty good. And, while they have been labelled the "Entitlement Generation," the vast majority of our current education students realize there is no guarantee of a teaching job upon the completion of their teacher-training program, even if they wished there was one waiting for them.

Teaching is -- and has always been -- tough work. Anyone who suggests teachers only work 330 minutes a day for only 196 days or less a year does not teach. The fortunate ones admitted into faculties of education learn they'll have to work late into the evenings preparing lessons and marking papers.

Almost as often they will also start the day by offering extra help to students or running practices and clubs before school.

And, soon enough, they know the summer break does not equal "two months off." Spend some time on a university campus in July or August and you can't help but bump into teachers, lots of teachers, taking summer classes to further develop professionally.

However, most people may not know that for a new teacher in Manitoba with five years of university education, the starting salary is at least $51,000 a year.

Add in a post-baccalaureate diploma or graduate degree plus 10 or 11 years of teaching experience, and the salary can top $82,000, depending on the school division. Based on the cost of living, teachers in Manitoba are certainly able to live reasonably comfortably.

It is tough to debate the fact young people today are graduating from university into a very tight job market, regardless of their chosen career. And most graduates are aware the people in professional degree programs such as education, nursing, law and even medicine are facing a similar reality: people are remaining healthier, staying productive longer and delaying retirement.

The competition for jobs is fierce. While they may want it to be true, few university students believe in the fairy tale that once upon a time every teacher candidate who simply wanted to teach was offered a permanent, full-time contract.

Nevertheless, Manitoba school divisions are actually hiring new graduates. Ask Ken Klassen, the superintendent of Hanover School Division, who has been hiring as many as 30 new graduates each year for the past few years.

And Ted Fransen, an assistant superintendent with Pembina Trails School Division in Winnipeg, notes his division filled about 40 positions for the 2012-13 school year with a mixture of veteran teachers and some new graduates.

You may even find out some of the smaller school divisions, such as Evergreen School Division in the Gimli area, have been hiring new graduates this year.

Yes, it's tough for new graduates, but there are jobs.

In reality, not everyone who wants to teach will get the chance, and that has not changed much in the past 30 years. Data from Manitoba Education illustrates that about 65 per cent of the 1982 University of Manitoba faculty of education graduating class found employment in the province either as a full-time or substitute teacher. The rest of them left the province, returned to school or left teaching altogether.

More recent figures show 63 per cent of the 2010 bachelor of education graduating class is employed in a teaching capacity in a Manitoba school. While some seem to suggest the prospect of getting a teaching job is much gloomier than it was just a generation ago, the truth is the percentage of teachers landing jobs has not changed much.

In a more pragmatic sense, regardless of the reasons for wanting to teach, not everyone who wants to will -- or should -- get the opportunity. While this may seem harsh, it's both a reality and also a protective mechanism.

There should be no apologies for the fact it's a competitive process to get into one of the province's teacher preparation programs.

In addition, there should be no guarantee that once graduated, you'll get a job. This system of selective hiring -- arguably an imperfect one that relies heavily on subjective assessments -- is designed to improve the odds that the best candidates get the opportunity to teach and, at the same time, increases the likelihood that each child in Manitoba has access to a great teacher.

Students and parents are better served by this stark reality because becoming a teacher in Manitoba should be seen as a distinction that is earned.

However, the overarching message is this: Yes, you can make a decent living being a teacher.

The job market is indeed weak, but there really are good teaching jobs available in Manitoba.

 

Jerome Cranston is an assistant professor of educational administration, foundations and psychology in the faculty of education at the University of Manitoba.

 

The Learning Curve is an occasional column written by local academics who are experts in their fields. It is open to any educator from Winnipeg's post-secondary institutions. Send 600-word submissions and a mini bio to julie.carl@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2012 J12

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