Teaching Profession | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Teaching Profession

The teaching profession, broadly defined, includes all those offering instruction in public or private institutions or independently.

Teaching Profession

The teaching profession, broadly defined, includes all those offering instruction in public or private institutions or independently. As defined here, the teaching profession includes only those who are licensed by the provincial and territorial authorities to provide instruction to elementary and secondary students in publicly supported schools. The gradual development of publicly supported SCHOOL SYSTEMS in the early 1800s was the critical factor in the creation of Canada's teaching profession.

The ideals of free and universal education accorded well with the aspirations of many pioneers who had immigrated to Canada to seek a better life (seeHISTORY OF EDUCATION). Initially, communities hired almost anyone who was willing to teach. By the mid-1800s, however, the colonial governments had begun to express more interest in public education and to provide more financial support; at the same time, various superintendents of education were fighting to establish schools for the training of teachers (NORMAL SCHOOL) and a certification system that would ensure minimal teacher qualifications.

Formation of Teachers' Associations

The advances in education in the 1800s were accompanied by repeated attempts by teachers to form local associations. In the early days teachers' organizations were dominated by Department of Education officials, inspectors, clergymen and influential laymen. As a result, association meetings tended to be devoted principally to inspirational addresses or discussions of teaching methods and rarely to teachers' concerns about their living and working conditions, which in the early 1900s were very poor.

In 1910 annual salaries for women elementary-school teachers in urban schools were in the $300-$1000 range, while those for men ranged from $600 to $1400. In the secondary schools, salaries ranged from $800 to $1800 for women and $1000 to $2100 for men. Job security was virtually nonexistent. Conditions were particularly harsh in rural areas, where poorly paid teachers were assigned to spartan, ill-equipped, one-room schools and were often obliged to function as janitors and to accept primitive and isolated accommodation.

Teacher dissatisfaction finally came to a head in the years during and immediately after the First World War. Teachers' salaries had remained static, but the cost of living had nearly doubled. In one area after another, teachers formed provincial associations to fight for improvements in salary, tenure and pensions. A national body, the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF), was founded in 1920, by which date there was at least one association in every province. Much of this organizational activity took place in secret because of the general hostility towards labour unions at that time. Although a majority of the modern teacher associations existed by 1920, the profession was not in fact completely organized in the provinces and territories until 1955. The provincial and territorial associations which are members of the CTF represent nearly 200 000 elementary and secondary school teachers. CTF is a member of the global federation of teachers' unions, Education International (EI).

In Québec the first provincial organization of French-speaking teachers was a federation of rural female teachers formed in 1937. In 1946 this group and two others, representing rural male teachers and urban teachers, became federated as Corporation générale des instituteurs et institutrices catholiques du Québec. In 1967 the name was changed to Corporation des enseignants du Québec. A fundamental organizational change occurred in 1974 when CEQ abandoned corporation status and became instead a UNION CENTRAL. Renamed Centrale de l'enseignement du Québec, CEQ represents not only teachers but various other groups employed in the education sector. Neither CEQ nor any of its predecessors have ever been members of the CTF.

The fledgling teacher associations sought, first of all, to improve salaries and procure TENURE protection and pensions, and to attain professional status and advances in education. In 1919 a group of 178 teachers in Victoria, BC, staged a two-day strike over salaries - the first teacher strike in the British Empire. The BC Department of Education succeeded in mediating an amicable settlement. The government subsequently took the first step toward establishing an arbitration procedure for salary disputes. Further strikes and resignations occurred in the western provinces during the 1920s.

The early economic goals of the teacher associations were not met quickly. Although the delegates to the 1920 CTF convention adopted the slogan "Double the 1914 basis" as part of a Canada-wide campaign, the average annual salary ($1600) to which they aspired was not achieved until after the Second World War. On the other hand, pension protection was more easily achieved. In 1920 only Québec (since 1856), New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Ontario had pension plans for teachers. In the next 20 years plans were established in Manitoba (1925), Nova Scotia (1928), BC (1929), Saskatchewan (1930), PEI (1931) and Alberta (1939).

During the GREAT DEPRESSION, teaching salaries were cut and competition for employment increased. Although economic conditions improved generally, the federal government's order-in-council of 1942-43 froze teachers in their jobs and severely limited their salary increases. The postwar period of prosperity and rapidly expanding population brought a critical shortage of teachers that continued until the early 1970s. The number of full-time teachers rose from 40 000 in 1910, to 75 000 in 1940, to 262 000 in 1970 and to a peak of 272 000 in 1976. Thereupon the size of the full-time teaching force declined to 252 000 in 1985. The number of full-time and part-time teachers in Canada increased from approximately 325 000 in 1997-98 to approximately 393 000 in 2009-10. The number of full-time equivalent educators rose from 303 000 to 338 000 over the same time period.

Collective Bargaining Rights

The Alberta Teachers' Association was, in 1941, the first association to acquire full bargaining rights, including the right to strike. The Manitoba Teachers' Society acquired similar rights in 1948. However, in 1956, negotiation procedures substituting binding arbitration for strike rights were written into the Manitoba Public Schools Act. Saskatchewan teachers also gained the right to bargain in the 1940s.

Teachers in the other provinces continued to bargain informally and to obtain improvements in salaries and benefits without resorting to sanctions. There were only five or six minor strikes in the 1950s, but in the 1960s there were six mass resignations and 42 strikes in five provinces. The majority of the strikes occurred in Québec. Strike action by teacher associations that still had no formal bargaining rights continued in the 1970s.

Currently all teachers in Canada are represented by a provincial or territorial organization. Bargaining rights are either held by the provincial/territorial organization or by local organizations that typically mirror the configuration of school districts. Collective bargaining is carried out in a variety of ways across the country - either provincially/territorially, locally by school boards or a combination of provincial/territorial and local. Teacher strikes are now a rare occurrence in Canada although all provinces and territories except for Prince Edward Island and Manitoba maintain the right to strike.

Professional Concerns

Founders of the various teachers' associations sought not only economic security but the establishment of teaching as a profession that was equal in status to LAW and MEDICINE. In particular, teachers fought for compulsory membership in their association, a code of ethics, the power to discipline members who did not abide by the code, and for control over standards of entrance to the profession.

The legislatures of Saskatchewan (1935) and Alberta (1936) enacted teaching profession acts making membership in teachers' professional organizations mandatory for all teachers employed in the publicly supported schools. By 1960 membership in all provincial associations was automatic or compulsory and most associations had acquired some disciplinary powers. All of the teacher associations outside Québec have adopted professional codes of ethics that serve as guides to teacher conduct.

Teacher Education and Certification

Although the provincial departments of education reserve the power to issue teaching certificates, teachers have nevertheless campaigned for higher standards of certification. Initially the goal was to ensure that all teachers completed high school before entering normal school, a goal that had not been achieved by 1939. After the Second World War it was agreed that all teachers should hold degrees and that all teacher preparation should take place under university auspices. In 1950, 10% of teachers held degrees and most were still trained in teachers' colleges; by 1992, 84% held degrees. Nine provinces currently require all or most new teachers to hold a degree. The transfer of teacher training to the universities was not completed until the late 1970s. Around 95% of secondary and elementary school teachers and educational counselors now have a university certificate, diploma or degree, including close to 90% who have obtained a bachelor's level or above.

Self-Regulatory Powers

Teachers' associations have not yet assumed complete responsibility for the certification, decertification, competence and continuing education of their members. In the early 1980s, however, Ontario and Alberta proposed to the teachers' associations that they adopt a full self-governing role on the condition that the teachers agree to split their organizations into 2 groups - a professional college in which membership would be compulsory, and a voluntary-membership association responsible for collective bargaining. Teachers rejected the proposal, preferring to maintain single united associations. In 1987 the BC government, over the objections of the BC Teachers' Federation, introduced legislation creating a College of Teachers, with power to certify, discipline and otherwise regulate teachers. In 1995 similar legislation was proposed in Ontario. The Ontario College of Teachers was established in 1997. The BC College of Teachers was dissolved in 2011 and replaced by the Teacher Regulation Branch in the BC Ministry of Education.

Educational and Social Concerns

Canadian teachers believe in a public education system rooted in equity and universality. They have consistently pressed for broad-based equitable funding that reflects the fact that public education is a collective responsibility.

Evaluation of students has been a source of persistent concern among teachers. For example, the need for external examinations for secondary-school students has been debated within educational circles for decades. Teachers have generally maintained that evaluation of student progress should be the responsibility of the school in which the student is enrolled. Notwithstanding, most provincial and territorial authorities have instituted provincial testing programs. In addition, all provinces and territories participate in a national testing program, the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP), launched in 2007 and coordinated by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). PCAP is a series of cyclical tests of the achievement of Canadian students in mathematics, reading, and science. It replaces an earlier assessment called the School Achievement Indicators Program (SAIP) which had been in place since 1993. Canada also participates in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment of the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science administered every three years, beginning in 2000.

Teachers have also participated actively in revisions of provincial curriculum guidelines (seeCURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT) and in developing local modifications of curriculum and units of work in CANADIAN STUDIES. The maintenance of discipline in the classroom and school appears to be an increasing problem. In a 2011 CTF survey, teachers are divided when asked if the discipline requirements placed on them are too onerous. About half of the teachers think that maintaining order among students demands too much energy and they sometimes feel overwhelmed.

Teachers have consistently supported equal rights and opportunities for women. In 1920, women accounted for 83% of the full-time teaching force, with this share falling steadily to about 55% in the early 1980's. Statistics Canada estimates indicate that this share has now risen back to about 71% in the 10 provinces combined. In addition Statistics Canada reports that women account for about 47% of all 15 000 elementary and secondary school principals - at the elementary level, they represent 53%, but only 42% at the secondary level.

International Development

CTF offers teachers the opportunity to participate in an international exchange and to volunteer service to colleagues in developing nations through Project Overseas. Since 1962 volunteer Canadian teachers have been volunteering their time and expertise to improve teaching performance and school management in over 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.

Further Reading