Sacrificing a good program with little to gain

The change to two-year teacher training offers little improvement but means CTEP will be dismantled


I never finished CTEP. I was enrolled in it for three semesters after entering it in its third year of existence at UTM on the advice of a few well-meaning people, but I decided teaching wasn’t for me and kept my anchor, French, as a major. The program wasn’t very kind to me, either—my two worst grades are my two CTEP courses, and I felt more than a little indignant when we were told that the year-long introductory course would be worth only half a credit after having been billed as a full one. I hated the mind maps and an assignment consisting of a report on a visit to an impoverished neighbourhood in Toronto. But for all that, I admit I did get something out of it, and I’ll be sad to see it go.

Yes, go. As this week’s lead news story details, the cohort of first-years accepted to UTM’s concurrent teacher education program this year will be the last in anticipation of the province fulfilling an election promise the Liberals made in 2011 to change teacher training to a two-year program. In theory, that would make our concurrent program require six years, and the university decided to put it on ice instead.

But is the two-year degree a good move? We know that the situation isn’t a great one for candidates graduating with a B.Ed., who, facing school boards already glutted with teachers in the most common categories, often have to wait for years on supply lists before being offered a position. As the professor of my language and society course said last month, the hiring policy has been mismanaged, both in the candidates’ specialty and (infamously) the balance of genders, and what aspiring students are now hearing—speak French and be male if you want to fill the most glaring gaps in the teaching workforce—will produce the opposite inundation before long. And stepping back, the numbers are, judging by the measures taken by the government, just too high to accommodate. Even our relatively small CTEP program felt the pressure—one of the facts that stood out to me was that first-year enrolment had been halved for the last two years in response to the ministry’s call to reduce the overall number of teacher candidates. It’s not surprising that some parties have latched onto the fact that the two-year degree is another means of reduction, given that the promise included a 50% decrease in enrolment.

As a step towards improving teacher training, it’s not that promising. It’s an increase in quantity but not necessarily in quality, and when I was talking about this with a teacher friend of mine, she said the curriculum focuses more on pedagogy and less on the practicum (the Star, reporting on the proposed change last year, stated that typically 45–80 days of teacher training are placements), and pointed out that if another year of training is to improve that distribution by focusing on placements, the candidates might as well get a head start on working. Unfortunately, having students spend more time in training doesn’t entail an improvement in the approach.

Compare the above figure to CTEP, which puts its students in classrooms each year of the program. Heck, I visited four schools in the introductory course alone. The total time spent doing practical work is greater, and it’s spread out over five years—a period long enough to allow for reflection and development, and yet no longer in total than consecutive teacher training after a bachelor’s.

In fact, most aspects of CTEP are praised by its students. Among the advantages are the fact that you develop as a student of your anchor subject and as a teacher-in-training at the same time, and with thought given to the relation between the two; you get to know the faculty much better than you would in only a year of postgraduate courses; and you have the time and exposure to reflect on whether the program is right for you in the first place (a feature I’m particularly grateful for). One of the few drawbacks—and this is owed solely to the program’s scale—is that there are few teachables with dedicated support. But that’s a plus compared to there being no direct connection between them at the instructional level.

Whatever the province intends to accomplish by the change to a two-year teacher training degree, the reality is that the concurrent model is the better one, and—for the time being, at least—it’s the one being dismantled, whereas the two-year teachers’ college term to be in effect in 2015 will probably not resemble a “serious” postgraduate degree any more closely than it does now. It makes for a disappointing farewell to what was a promising young program.

The good news is that the university is already considering a full retooling of the program in the form of an education minor, to be informed by the spirit and practices of CTEP. We can only hope for a good result that manages both to capture the strengths of the excellent program now on its way out and to satisfy whatever higher standards the Ministry of Education hopes will accompany the arbitrarily lengthened basic degree.