Teacher glut leaves new grads in limbo

New teachers are flooding the education field, while few teachers retire, creating a fiercely competitive job market

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Pete Sigler

Jonas Hrebeniuk

HE'S FROM THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS ... AND POLO SHIRTS. Pete Sigler, a Western grad and supply teacher in London, got his first teaching work overseas in Korea, but is having a tough time finding permanent employment in Ontario.

Despite earning her education degree from Western three years ago, Jas Meena Sekhon is still stuck in limbo as a supply teacher " and she’s one of the “lucky ones.”

“Of the people I went to teacher’s college with, only a handful ... are still in teaching, or trying to teach,” Sekhon said. “There is definitely a problem here.”

Education graduates all across the province are struggling to find teaching positions, according to the Ontario College of Teachers’ latest Transition to Teaching study.

The study found only 41 per cent of 2006 graduates found regular employment by spring 2007. This was even lower than the 51 per cent employment rate recorded the year before.

At the beginning of this decade teacher retirements were at record highs; annual retirements and new teacher replacements from Ontario faculties of education were nearly balanced.

As the decade progressed, a large decline in annual teacher retirement combined with a substantial increase in the number of new teachers created an imbalance in supply and demand.

By 2006 the glut of new teachers beyond retirement replacement reached 7,000 annually.

With a surplus of graduates flooding the education field and few teachers retiring, the province’s teaching market is now fiercely competitive. It’s common for education graduates to wait years for a steady teaching job.

Stephanie Kuhnt earned her bachelor of education from Western this year and has yet to land a job in her field.

“I have one friend who applied to 70 jobs,” Kuhnt said. “And did not hear from one single place.”

English-language teachers are at the greatest disadvantage. Less than 32 per cent of the English-language Transition to Teaching survey respondents found regular jobs, compared to 96 per cent of respondents capable of teaching French.

Qualified to teach French, Julie Campbell secured a full-time job teaching elementary school French before she graduated from Western earlier this year.

“If a person can teach French, music or in particular technology studies, that person won’t have any difficulty getting a job,” Margaret McKay, dean of undergraduate and pre-service programs in the faculty of education at Western, said.

The Transition to Teaching study revealed secondary school teachers of subjects like computer studies and science no longer have a competitive advantage over teachers of other subjects.

Although these qualifications were once in high-demand, only 35 per cent of teachers in these disciplines found steady jobs last year.

After earning her degree in education from Queen’s University three years ago, Victoria Westcott went to teach in London, England. She now works for Classroom Canada, recruiting other Canadian teachers to work abroad.

“It is significantly easier for teachers from Canada to secure positions in London, England,” Westcott explained. “England has the opposite problem that we have ... they have a teacher shortage.”

Pete Sigler graduated from Western three years ago and his first teaching placement was at an international school in Korea.

“I think it’s really easy to get a job teaching English overseas,” Sigler said.

Now back in Canada, Sigler is on the occasional teaching list but knows it could be awhile before he sees a full contract. Some of his fellow teachers have been searching for three years, he added.

McKay assured there are still jobs available in Ontario if graduates are prepared to supply teach, take long-term occasional appointments or relocate.

“If their heart is set, they should go for it,” McKay said.

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