Teacher Education in Canada: Asking the Right Questions

Aug 27, 12 Teacher Education in Canada: Asking the Right Questions

This week across the country and, indeed, around the world, tens of thousands of students will be streaming into schools of education in order to earn the qualifications that would allow them to secure employment in one of Canada’s public or private schools. Despite the fact that several provinces are experiencing an over-supply of teacher candidates, they keep coming, many hoping that they will somehow be the exception to what has become abundantly apparent in many jurisdictions: no full time job will be waiting upon graduation!

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested to voicEd.ca authors that teacher education might be a good topic for discussion and now, as summer ends and as a new school year beckons, I’m hoping that the conversation will become more vibrant. In fact, over the weekend, two “seasoned” educators, both with a heart for teacher education, began discussing how initial teacher education programs might, themselves, be enlivened through the introduction of conflicting ideas about teaching and learning, alternative strategies and how the very familiar and seemingly uncontentious place we call school (and this includes the institutions that prepare candidates for work there) might be rendered more…well…contentious.

I would encourage you to read John Myers and Paul W. Bennett’s comments on Matt Henderson’s post to get a flavour for what they are talking about.

For me, I’ll take up the challenge and suggest that, since their appropriation by universities,  initial teacher education programs are caught in a fight for legitimacy. On the one hand, most candidates come to initial teacher education programs expecting to learn the knowledge and skills necessary to assume a role in a modern classroom. They look to their faculty instructors to provide coursework and mentorship that will allow them to take their place—as smoothly and as undected as possible—in the teaching ranks.

A sense that teacher education should be practical and relevant tops the list of many that are heading off to faculties this week.

On the other hand, ITE programs also have to fight for legitimacy among other university colleagues and communities. The demand for rigorous research standards and the expectation that courses will be taught by highly qualified instructors creates an internal tension that resonates throughout the institution: This ain’t normal school anymore, folks. This is a university level program, complete with university-style delivery, university-style credentials bestowed upon candidates at a university-style commencement!

In recognizing these tensions, we have a couple of choices. We can try to eliminate them (and there are couple of ways of approaching this), or we can explore them, interrogate them and, moving forward, use what we discover to strengthen our approaches to teacher education.

So I would like to present a few of the questions that have emerged for me since reading the conversation between John and Paul. These aren’t the only questions that might be helpful in moving the discussion forward, but they may allow us to get us moving further down the road. Feel free to criticize, offer alternative perspectives or jump in with ideas and questions of your own.

  1. What should the primary purpose of initial teacher education be? Should it be to socialize and train candidates to work in a school, or should it be to prepare students to think deeply and critically about schools?
  2. What is the role/place of alternative approaches and ideologies to education in an initial teacher education program?
  3. Where should initial teacher education be centered: in a university-based faculty or in a school district?
  4. Who should be sought out as teachers and instructors in an initial teacher education program? What should be the balance between practicing teachers and university professors?
  5. Who should decide what a program of study looks like in an initial teacher education program?
  6. What is the right balance betweenfoundations courses” (philosophy, psychology, law) and methods courses (strategies and approaches related to specific curriculum areas)?
  7. What is the right balance between practicum experience and coursework in an ITE program?
  8. Who should be admitted to a teacher education program, and what criteria should be used for admission?

Admittedly, these questions hover between the practical and the ideological, which is one of the challenges that has been expressed by others. And some of these questions are begging for more unpacking. I would like your help in clarifying, refining, deleting and adding to the types of questions that we need to be exploring if we are going to have meaningful and productive conversations about teacher education.

This week, tens of thousands of students will be streaming into schools of education across this country. Are they receiving the initial teacher education they need? Are they asking the right questions? Are we?


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 voicEd.ca


  1. John Myers /

    A great opening piece.
    I shall get back to all this in a week or two
    as I consider the various related threads while
    putting together my courses, one of which is new

    • Thanks John…looking forward to keeping in touch with the many things that you are doing. I would also love to hear about the new course.

  2. John Myers /

    If we put all of the threads on teacher ed in recent week (I think four threads with dozens of posts) it .
    would be useful. Some additional comments (though some may have appeared elsewhere)
    – to make direct comparisons with US teachers’ colleges would be a big mistake; one reason is that their intake usually has a significantly lower GPA than ours
    – teacher ed cannot do it alone; any success most of us have had as teachers took years
    – a number of thew questions posed in the original post have not been adequately discussed, at least in the places I have worked in
    – the tensions between university-based programs and what we used to call “normal school” stand alone programs shall always be with us; I wish the two sides of “tower” and “field” would talk to each other more
    – for the above to happen we might need a hard-hitting government policy that controls the $$$; does anyone trust any government to do this well?

    I do the best i can and rely on “tribal marketing” to get my ideas out

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