The battle to find a teaching job

April 1, 2012
Katherine O'Brien

If you've got teaching in your blood, if it's your passion and your gift, then maybe you should follow your heart and apply to teacher's college. But before you go down this path, know exactly what you’re getting into. It's a cutthroat market and if your goal is a full-time job with a public school board it may be years before you land such a position.

"Competition is incredibly fierce," says Veronica Tunzi, a full-time French immersion teacher with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). "In the current market, I would suggest pursuing a teaching degree only if you are incredibly passionate about teaching."

The Ontario College of Teachers' (OCT) 2011 Transition to Teaching study is now out and it underscores Tunzi's observations about the job market. Each year since 2001, when there was still a shortage of teachers, the OCT has surveyed new teaching graduates and new-to-Ontario teachers for these studies. Large-scale surveys of Ontario teachers in their early years in spring 2011 found that the already-high unemployment rate had risen again. "Almost one in three of the teacher education graduates of 2010 who sought teaching jobs during the 2010-11 school year were unemployed with no success in finding even daily supply teaching during the first school year of their teaching careers. Only one in eight of them secured regular teaching jobs. And just one in three of those who were on the job market secured as much teaching work as they wanted."

Primary-junior teachers, English-language teachers generally, and those in central, southwestern and eastern Ontario report the least success in their job seeking. First-year internationally trained teachers who are newly certified to teach in Canada have been hard hit by the teacher surplus too. "Over the past four years, first-year unemployment more than doubled for this group of highly experienced teachers," says the report.

Part of the reason for this glut of teachers is the substantial drop in teacher retirements in Ontario. And, according to the report, "Teacher retirements are forecast to remain under 5,000 annually over the next 10 years."

Tunzi also points out that even those who do secure a full-time contract are often "surplused" at the end of every school year, meaning that they have to transfer to another school within the school board. "This process can sometimes last for five years of more before you finally gain enough seniority to avoid being surplused," says Tunzi.

There are really no bright lights on the Ontario teacher's job market, only some lights that are less dim than others. For instance, the Way Too Many Teachers article, which points out that an excess of at least 4,000 new teachers enter Ontario's system each year, notes that "the job picture for teachers is better in Ontario's most northerly regions than the rest of the province." And those who can teach technological education have better job outcomes than others -- but even they are experiencing substantial underemployment and unemployment rates. Additionally, although the French-language teacher market is ahead of the English market, the Transitions to Teaching report labels it as "sluggish" and in the midst of a three-year trend of weakening employment outcomes. Less than one in four French-language teachers secured regular jobs in the 2010-11 school year (which is better than one in eight, but still).

"I am certain French language skills helped me get my foot in the door," says Tunzi, who came to the public school system with a graduate degree, editorial skills and prior teaching experience. "However, candidates in today's market also need to have other skills and experiences to offer. I'm not convinced that French alone will definitely land you a job," she says, adding that "it seems that school boards today really are looking for the whole package."

For the last three months, technological education teacher Mohamed El Halla has been looking for a job with either the French or English public school system. Although he too has a strong background -- 10 years of experience training teachers in Morocco, a master's degree in Engineering, five years teaching IT at a private college in Toronto -- he plans to pursue an additional qualification in high school math and is considering one in special education. "You have to diversify yourself, so you have more options in front of you," says El Halla. "You have to distinguish yourself in order to get the job."

Teaching outside of Ontario
According to the Transitions to Teaching report, one in five first-year teachers now look outside Ontario for their first teaching job. Forty per cent of the teachers who take jobs elsewhere are employed in regular contracts compared to the 21 per cent of those who remain in Ontario. (Note that the job market for teachers is also slow in western Canada too.) Teachers who do stay in Ontario are also looking for education jobs outside of the public system, for instance, at independent schools, which provide one in four of the regular teaching contracts in the province.

Strategies to find work
In addition to having a terrific background, two strategies that may help teachers-to-be land a contract are networking and volunteering. According to the Transitions to Teaching report, "Most [respondents to the survey] see networking as key to successfully landing a teaching job and many of them actively pursue opportunities to get noticed through working their education contacts and by personal visits to schools. Almost half of them volunteer their time in school classrooms to increase their chances of being known and recommended for teaching jobs." The OCT report points out that there is some data to support the role of volunteering in finding a position. "By the end of the second year following graduation, the unemployment rate for those who volunteered after completing their teacher education programs in 2009 was just 17 per cent, whereas those who had not volunteered have a 27 per cent unemployment rate."

In How to Land a Teaching Job, Candace Davies, the author of 101 A+ Teaching Job Search Tips, recommends that substitute teachers in particular focus on networking. "Develop a relationship with the administrators at the school and demonstrate that you are passionate and enthusiastic about having a classroom of your own. If you do an excellent job while substituting, you will have more of a chance of getting an interview if you are known by the administration."

Davies also advises would-be educators to look at alternative teaching positions such as tutoring, coaching, training, mentoring or teaching degree programs. "Do not close yourself off to just teaching in a traditional school environment. Usually, if you have just started in the teaching profession, a great way to get acquainted with the field is in 'training' positions."

And for those of you who still want to teach in the public school system, check out our Preparing for a Public School Career article where you can learn how to lay the groundwork for this profession.

Comments

I agree with the Katherine Obrien that "Competition [in the job market for teachers] is incredibly fierce" (Obrien, K. The battle to find a teaching job). However, graduates in Education should not be discouraged about this, if they have a strategic plan and are comfortable enough to "marry" their loved profession with another one. In my case, I am an Internationally Trained Teacher in the process of certification with the college. In the meantime I am taking the Social Service Worker College Diploma Program. Therefore, I hope I will broaden the range of my chances for employment upon graduation - either in education or in the field of community and social services. Schools need Social Workers as well.
Likewise, there certainly are numerous other options for teachers - combinations that could boost their professional profile and increase their probability of landing a job.

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Poss.ca is a free online magazine to help Toronto job seekers find work. An initiative of Findhelp Information Services, poss.ca is an Employment Ontario project funded in part by the Government of Canada.

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