New Topic For Discussion: Teacher Education in Canada

Aug 17, 12 New Topic For Discussion: Teacher Education in Canada

I would like to pose a different type of back to school topic to which some of our authors and readers might like to turn their attention. This is the time of the year when much of the mainstream media will be ramping up their education-related coverage by tackling some of the familiar “September” songs: back-to-school anxiety, purchasing school supplies, the kindergarten experience, high school transition, back-to-school lunches and the like.

These are all worthy of conversation but I would like to suggest that we turn our attention to the thousands of students across the country that will be heading off to a faculty of education to begin teacher preparation programs. Some will be staying fairly close to home to attend one of the many provincial university-based programs. A significant number, however, will be traveling to the international destinations in order to become qualified to teach. Some will return home to try to find work, others will join the many who, because of the shortage of opportunities here in Canada, will find positions abroad.

Our conversations about education reform tend to be focused on issues of school-based teacher quality and classroom practice, and I don’t think that we spend enough time talking about the initial education and training that teachers receive. Oh, we have the occasional conversation about the ideal length of a faculty program, and some rather shallow conversations about whether or not candidates emerge adequately prepared to enter the profession, but I don’t think that our discussions are as wide or as deep as they could be.

I would like to suggest that we take some time to break open this mysterious place called initial teacher education (ITE) and ask some serious questions about what it means to prepare candidates to become teachers in the 21st century.

At we have teacher educators among us, and I would like to extend the invitation to have others join us. We have authors and readers that have recently attended a teacher education program, and these insights will be valuable. We have parents who will see members of their own family head off to enrol in a program. And we have teachers who are getting ready to welcome faculty of education students into their classrooms for their required practicum sessions. All of these voices are important to the conversation.

Here are some of the questions about teacher education that are on my own mind—such as it is—and I know that you have some of your own:

  1.  Ok, so what is the ideal length of an initial teacher education (ITE) program (we have to tackle that one!)
  2. Where should ITE programs be centered: university, school district, individual school?
  3. What are the essentials with which all ITE candidates should emerge?
  4. What is the ideal ratio between university-based knowledge and practicum experience?
  5. Who should be admitted to Canadian ITE programs? What should the qualifications be?
  6. How should we determine who gets admitted to an ITE? (I’ll leave that one as open as possible in my own mind)
  7. Who should determine the content of ITE programs?
  8. Should ITE be grounded in local education policy, or should they be more universal in approach?
  9. What qualifications/background should those teaching in ITE programs have?
  10. What role do ITE programs have in the current conversations about educational transformation?

There are others, and I would like to give you the opportunity to contribute some of your own. What questions about teacher education are most prominent in your mind? Which are most pressing when we consider the current discourse about school quality and reform?

So, I would like to invite you to share your ideas by responding to the blog entries that might emerge in the coming weeks. If you’re interested in becoming a author (even if only for this specific topic), let me know through the contact form in the top menu. If you know of anyone else that might be interested in some conversation around teacher education in Canada, send them over for a visit!

I expect that there will be many diverse perspectives on the present and future of teacher education, and all of these are more than welcome here.

Teacher Education in Canada! Let’s talk.

About Stephen Hurley

I've been privileged to spend the last 30 years serving the public education system in Ontario. Through opportunities to work at most levels of the system, I have developed a heart for big picture thinking that is grounded in the reality of today's schools. I'm passionate about my own learning and look forward to nurturing that passion through my presence at


  1. John Myers /

    I shall respond to some of these in the next week as they are
    – important
    – controversial (if you follow comments from other blogs).

    My opening comment posits that there is always/will be
    tensions among research, practice, and provincial policy
    and that they can never be fully aligned.

    So how do we help researchers in education who often focus on narrow areas of inquiry under fairly controlled conditions connect with classroom practitioners (teachers) used to the controlled chaos of classroom life/
    And how do we help teachers recognize both the power and limits of research in education so that they avoid the scylla of cynicism and the charybdis of faddism (two prominent characteristics of too many other education blogs)?

    • Hi John,

      I appreciatey you being here. Your experience and expertise in the field of teacher education is respected and greatly appreciated here.

      The tensions that you identify are very real and, although they will always be with us, identifying them, naming them and continuing to work towards resolution is part of what makes this both important and exciting.

      I’m wondering whether the physical disconnect between practitioners and researchers is problematic and sets up some practical and ideological barriers that are difficult to overcome. Not sure if you see any “promising” practices that have effectively set out to challenge these barriers, but I would love to explore this further!

  2. Nancy /

    On the importance of teacher training. “This article shows that investing more money in the school system has not improved student performance. Until teachers receive better training in college, nothing will change.”

    The article is making its rounds in the dyslexic and LD communities – suggesting to parents to get help for their children outside of the school system and advocating for better training at the teachers’ faculties – because nothing will change for the LD and dyslexic children.

    As I have observed, teachers faculties – the goal is the teacher’s certificate.

    The must have courses – are in three areas – As a typical example:

    “Curriculum Studies – These courses examine the aims, scope, sequence and structure of the major subject areas. In the primary, junior, and intermediate divisions, these areas are visual arts, language, mathematics, music, health and physical education, science, and social studies. The basics of each subject are introduced, but mainly in relation to the development of curriculum. Studies in the senior division focus on curriculum theory in relation to their teaching subjects.

    Education and Schooling/Educational Psychology, Special Education – These courses provide an introduction to the major components of education. These include history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, administration, and a study of the needs of exceptional children. The courses provide background knowledge and evaluative skills for curricular decisions.

    The Practicum – There are two practice teaching sessions for a total of 12 weeks of placement throughout the academic year. Students may practice teach in either the Public or Roman Catholic Separate School Boards in selected areas throughout the province”

    All other courses are optional.

    One does not have to wonder why the advice of the outside associations and agencies working in dealing with children in some aspect of education, are giving the advice to seek out private help, outside of the school.

    Would it not be apt to discussed the courses needed for a B ED, what is required and what is not and how helpful they are to a teacher in their career?

    Just wondering, because I don’t know enough to make comments on the teacher training, but as a parent I have a lot of questions what is being taught, that makes some of the teaching practices into magical cures of what is ailing students? A lot of the magical cures is being foisted upon the students with learning difficulties, resulting in outcomes of students never reaching their full potential.

    • Hi Nancy,

      You know, I agree that faculty students could use a lot more focus on several issues, “special needs” being one of them.

      I would actually advocate for specific and required courses in this area so that every teacher candidate graduates with the knowledge and insights (and skills) that someone taking additional qualifications courses in Special Education. Do you know that it is possible to move through an entire educational career with very little in the way of mandated coursework in Special Education.

      There used to be a time in our system when segregation of students with special needs rendered the need to have expertise in the areas that you identify unnecessary. Those times are long gone, and so your concerns are valid, me thinks.

      • John Myers /

        To both Nancy and Steve,
        While a “course” in working with the diversity that exists in all classrooms (of which identified spec ed is but a part) should be compulsory, it is far from sufficient. As stated in an earlier post I think we need better connections with the field so that whatever insights an introduction offers, they are reinforced, refined, and applied to classroom situations. A disembodied course is a waste of time.

        Here is an idea.
        What if the internship years of teaching (let’s say 3-5years instead of 2) in which the first year would be a reduced class load supplemented by working with a mentor (as I saw in New Zealand in the 1990s) concluded with a six-month return to a faculty of education to better link practice to theory now that teachers can use their experiences to make better sense of the latter?

        This would change the current use of Additional Qualifications courses.

        In a few days, likely after I have returned from working with some skilled American teachers, I shall comment on the role of technology, given another thread on this site.

        • John,

          Best wishes as you travel south! I like the proposal to return to a faculty of education after an extended internship. So often, the busyness of life—professional commitments, family and the like—prevent teachers from “re-connecting” with the professional learning that happens at universities and, specifically, faculties of education. IF it were built into the process, however…


  3. I would like to jump in here and make a comment around the “practice teaching” component of ITE. When I was in Teacher’s College my understanding was that I would be placed in a classroom with a teacher who wanted to support me in my goal of learning the ‘art’ of teaching. What I found were teachers who had signed up to have someone do their “heavy lifting”. I was saddened and disheartened by MY experience, moreover, my practicum reports were not outstanding and comments like ‘lacks initiative’ ended up on most of my reports. My mentors did not believe in me and from my perspective they were looking for student teachers that were ready to jump right in and take over. That was not me then, it is not me now. On a positive note, some of my colleagues take on student teachers and really put all their effort in to teaching them how to teach while ensuring that they meet their responsibilities to their students, student teacher, and Faculty of Education.

    Who should determine the content of ITE programs? Having no knowledge of the current process of determining content, I believe in-service classroom teachers should have a major role in this area. The further one moves away from the classroom the less grounded they become on what is actually happening in the classrooms. I think there needs to be a strong ‘grass roots’ voice in the content of programs and around other intagibles – for example – attracting and retaining more male teachers in the primary grades. There is a lot of talk about having more primary male teachers but I don’t see anything or hear anything that is working to make this happen. Our young students should have the best of both worlds in their formative years.

    • Lots of issues here RT. I would like to jump in on the “content” discussion by asking you a question (or two). What knowledge or skills would you want to make sure are integrated into the coursework of teacher candidates that might not be there already.

      Are there some gaps of knowledge or skill that you feel could be better addressed at faculties of education…some areas in which new graduates may be struggling?

      Is this a matter of more university-based content, or should the practicum experiences be re-envisioned so that the thing that you’re thinking about might be handled within a classroom context.

      Ideas? Thanks for the reply and the conversation.

  4. John Myers /

    Practice teaching for a variety of reasons lacks quality control. My experiences include working at several faculties of education mostly in Ontario but in several other provinces and countries and mostly in high school classes. For improving the quality it would require co-ordination with all relevant “stakeholders” from the provincial through the teachers groups and more. I would be happier if university-school connections were better than they generally are though there are programs that have elements of such quality connections.

    In my experience
    – a few school associates should not be doing the job; fortunately they are few and usually caught out and changed (could do better here)
    – some are in the “use if you must” category; they are valuable in that they do some things VERY WELL and my students learn from them though their “pedagogical diet” is narrow
    – most range in the “good” category; they take their mentoring responsibilities seriously and often look to the student to bring “fresh ideas” from the teachers colleges
    – a few are outstanding and I would do anything to keep them

    I send out a newsletter of ides to these mentor teachers with news and teaching ideas for them to try and to see what I do at the college. These teachers contribute to my newsletter so in this way we make authentic quality connections.

    As noted above different faculties can offer different strengths; for example, evaluating student teachers in some places matches the standards and criteria used for teacher appraisal. I can only wish
    this were universal. That would be a useful step.

    As for required courses, they would, whatever they are, be more useful if better connected to “best practice”, “best research” and “best policy” in the field.

    “I don’t set policy. I implement/work through or around it/bend it/stretch it it as best as I can.”
    I also teach kids when I can and talk to my own and my grandkids and their friends often about these things. They are very honest and helpful.

  5. John Myers /

    My remarks on IT will be short as I have classes to prep for and a tech project to refine for year two with a colleague and my teacher network- You will get a note too, Steve.
    – great potential, especially for presenting basic information
    – improved learning potential is unproven or at best uneven
    – most use is thoughtless; even high school students complain about the boring and confusing use of powerpoint as it is too easy just to show and not interact with students
    – hand helds in school are still in the figuring out stage
    – too much of the advocacy is based on economics and wishful thinking not improved learning; e.g., there is a place for teachers using twitter as a tool for, but this should not be confused with the substance of thinking and doing aspects of professional learning

    A recent article in the Toronto Star
    “Don’t teach til you see the whites of their eyes”
    is one of many that should be read.

    I am not anti-tech. My experiences go back to curriculum work in this in the early 1980s with elementary schools. I just wish we were smarter about its use as I try to do my bit to learn best use.

    • Thanks for the comments John. I agree that there is still quite a lot of rocky terrain to cross before we get to a clear consensus on technology in the classroom. Older reflections including Clifford Stoll’s Silicon Snake Oil and Larry Cuban’s Tinkering Towards Utopia still resonate, leading me to believe that the thoughtful implementation that you hint at (!) may always be elusive.

      We’re embarking on some serious conversations about IWB technology this year. Although the horse has kind of left the barn on this one, I don’t think that it’s too late to have the conversations that might keep it on the farm!

      I very much appreciate the folks that we meet here that are willing to do the tinkering, figuring out, and imagining, but I’m wondering how willing the system is to be patient with the messiness of the process…

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