The nearest Aha Blume has come to a job in the four years since she graduated from teacher’s college was a phone interview with a school board in Western Canada.
“I was really close on that one,” says Blume, who rents a room in her mother’s home and works in a fast-food restaurant while she waits for a chance to enter her profession.
“I’m lucky I’m getting some parental help, although it’s not the ideal situation when you’re 28. Not everybody has that.”
Thousands of new teachers in Ontario share Blume’s predicament, strapped for the opportunity to gain experience by declining enrolment, school closures and the widespread use of retired teachers for the limited amount of supply teaching that does come up. Permanent employment can take years.
The Ontario government this week brought in a package of “fair hiring” practices it said will help protect 10,000 young teaching jobs. The number of days a year retired teachers can work is reduced to 50 from 95. New, transparent hiring regulations go into effect Sept. 1 for new teachers who manage to get hired onto a board’s occasional teacher’s list, a stepping-stone to full-time work. Other factors than seniority must be priorities.
Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the 44,000-member Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, says the measures — if taken seriously by boards and government — will help new teachers navigate what was seen as a nontransparent hiring process.
“There were so many questions about what the practices were,” O’Dwyer said. “Frankly, some individuals were certainly pointing to nepotism.”
His union has signed a new contract agreement with the province, which is still negotiating with other teachers, and threatening legislation if new deals don’t result. There’s opposition to the “fair hiring” regulations in other teacher groups.
“The government’s approach is simplistic,” says Rian McLaughlin, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Occasional Teacher local, of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. “Hiring and teaching are not simplistic things. They are complicated and from our perspective, in our region, we would say we have superior measures that are already in place.”
McLaughlin does agree it takes persistence for new teachers to break in.
“It behooves us as their representatives, and faculties of education and boards to be very realistic with them when they enter the teaching circle,” she said. “We don’t have three or four children any more. We have one or two in a family. Demographics play a huge part in the availability of teaching positions.”
Oosha Bechar, a Hamilton teacher who followed up her longtime yearning to teach after 10 years as a business analyst, had some luck. She has one of the coveted spots on the Hamilton public board’s occasional teacher list.
A 2009 master’s graduate of Daemen College in Buffalo, it took the now 42-year-old Bechar about 18 months to get hired as an occasional teacher, and until June, she had never secured a long-term occasional post — a supply job longer than 10 days. She got a one-month assignment teaching math and science in Grade 8.
“This is on my resume now, and gives me more leverage for another position,” she hopes.
Long periods without work are the norm.
“More new teachers are unemployed in their first school year than ever before,” the Ontario College of Teachers, which regulates the profession, says in its 2011 annual survey of how new teachers transition to the classroom. Almost one in three education graduates of 2010 who looked for work in the 2010-11 school year had no success.
“Many of those with jobs are underemployed. And more are taking up alternate work, mainly as stopgap measures while they stay committed to getting established in their education careers.”
That’s the case with Blume, who graduated from McMaster University in 2007, attended teacher’s college at the University of Maine, and returned to Hamilton for practice teaching in the fall of 2008. Certified a short time later, she began looking for jobs “and, of course, there were none.” A brief move to London, Ont., some private school teaching, and a bit of supply work back in Hamilton led nowhere.
An English and history teacher, she’s looking into returning to McMaster for courses to upgrade her teacher qualifications, but she wonders what the solution for her will be.
“The reality is, if a new young teacher comes in, and a teacher who’s been working for 10 years . … and they both apply for the job, they’re probably going to hire the one that’s been working for years,” Blume said. “I have great respect for the teachers who have worked so hard … but there are so many new young people, and we should really be getting the chance.”