To the untrained ear, $600 000 still must sound like a lot of money, and as I am in a bit of a unique position to be able to speak on this topic, I thought I would write a blog post clarifying where some of this money goes, so that naysayers may have a better understanding.
First it's important to understand that times have changed since I graduated from the Faculty of Education at OISE and sailed into my first teaching contract at a little country school in Caledon nearly two decades ago; today's average teachers' college grad spends several years doing daily supply work before perhaps being lucky (and good enough!) to land a long-term-occasional (LTO) for several weeks or months in a single school. From there, they may finally apply for a full time contract.
Until they land this much-coveted full time contract, occasional teachers (OTs) are generally not eligible for the same plethora of Board PD offered to contract teachers, including the Ministry-sponsored New Teacher Induction Program , or NTIP (though if they have been teaching for 97 consecutive days for the same teacher, they are eligible for some elements of the program).
A Need for Accessible OT PD
Welcoming a cohort of teachers into the profession to languish on supply lists for three years or longer without a plan to support and promote their professional learning is not a super wise idea. It's no secret that OTs earn considerably less than contract teachers who have been teaching for a few years. And they are not eligible for the same health benefits plan.
Expecting them to pay for expensive AQ or other privately offered courses when they may already have a heap of student debt from their undergrad and teaching degrees is unreasonable.
This is where teacher federations have been helpful.
Union - Offered PD
Occasional teacher unions have long offered professional development; they are closest to the ground, and are best poised to understand the needs of their members. As these needs evolve in the current job market, teacher unions seem like reasonable organizations to partner with to provide funding for continued in-service training.
Typically, this PD is offered after the school day, so that OTs can still pick up a job during the day, and then come for a workshop after school somewhere.
Professional learning opportunities for occasional teachers are by necessity different from those offered to contract teachers. Daily OT work can be isolating, especially for newer OTs, who have not yet built up a professional network.
Student behaviour management is constantly on the radar, and occasional teachers want and need practical strategies to get through the day in a possibly unfamiliar classroom or school. A workshop for contract teachers may focus on longer-term planning, whereas a session for OTs may be more likely to focus on individual skills, concepts, lesson plans... while still addressing the latest trends in education. This prepares the OT for their daily job tomorrow and next Thursday while also offering them an opportunity to build their professional knowledge in preparation for a job interview.
Math for OTs: A Joint Effort
A significant chunk of the $600K mentioned near the top of this blog post went to a project that saw several mentor teachers, including experienced OTs and contract teachers such as myself come together to collaboratively plan a full day of professional learning in Math. I know, because I am one of those teachers!
Under the guidance of an experienced federation professional learning leader, the team of us then prepared to go out into the field and facilitate these full day math/teaching sessions with OTs across the province. This year, I have visited 3 locals: Thunder Bay, Waterloo and Oshawa, and will be facilitating a fourth session next week in Hamilton. Each of the sessions has been well attended, and the participants actively engaged on multiple levels.
We also do some professional reading together, and engage in many formal and informal conversations about classroom management techniques.
To be honest, it's a bit of a presenter's dream: Even though it's only a day (I always prefer a multi-part workshop, for retention and capacity building), it's a FULL day, DURING the day, when participants are fresh and alert. In addition, we had a budget we could spend per participant, so I was able to purchase some excellent resources to share at each session and then raffle off as prizes at the end. Thanks to this, many teachers walked away from each session with with either a practical teacher math reference or a student-friendly, classroom-ready, math-themed picture book.
Paying a room full of teachers for each session, plus paying my own release time and travel expenses as a workshop facilitator, and providing supplies and resources for the workshop is not a cheap venture. But it's am important and effective one, and the investment in our province's teaching force, who directly impact student success, is well worth it, in my opinion.
Good Things Lie Ahead
In addition to facilitating math sessions for OTs, I have also presented 2-part classroom management workshops aimed specifically at Occasional Teachers and 3-day summer institutes for OTs. Each time, no matter where in the province I present, I have been amazed at the caliber of teacher who attends. These OTs are committed, passionate and professional.
If this collective crew is any indication of what lies ahead, Ontario's students are in for a real treat in the next decade as those of us who are further along the continuum either retire or move on -- as I will come September -- to other, out-of-classroom education positions, freeing up space in Ontario's classrooms for these more recent teacher graduates to take over 21-century education!
So, now you know where at least some of the money goes.