More school, better teachers

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Wed Aug 31 2011.

We expect a lot of our teachers these days. Long gone is the era when students sat quietly at their desks, under threat of the strap, and diligently took notes. Now, teachers must figure out the best way to reach – and teach – each of their students whether they get straight As or are struggling to learn basic English.

That’s why the Ontario Liberals’ election promise to extend teacher college from one year to two years “with an emphasis on in-classroom learning” makes good sense.

An increasing number of students have a learning disability, a behavioral problem or come to school hungry. Problems in a student’s home or community often spill into the classroom affecting their ability to do well. Teachers are expected to juggle all this.

Thankfully, we have much better research on child development and more information about teaching practices to help teachers meet the needs of their diverse student body. In fact, experts and educators know far too much to cram into a single year of teacher college and have long called for an extended program.

Certainly, education students will not relish the idea of another year in university and the increased debt load that comes with it. But, as it stands now Ontario’s program is one of the shortest in Canada. In most other provinces it already takes a year and half or two years—after an undergraduate degree—to become a teacher.

Right now, prospective teachers in Ontario get just 40 days of practical experience in the classroom. That’s not much time to learn how to engage a classroom full of students and how to cope with the disruptive ones. It’s one thing to read about such things in a text book and quite another, as any new teacher knows, to do the right thing under pressure.

Details of the plan need to be scrutinized, of course. But, a second year of study could only help better prepare teachers for the demands of their vitally important job.

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