Despite tumultuous times, demand for UBC teacher education grows
Too many teachers, not enough jobs.
It’s a commonly heard sentiment when talk turns to education. Universities are graduating too many teachers in an already saturated job market. Or so it goes.
“Nothing will stop me from wanting to be a teacher” – Sian Weatherley
But if supply outweighs demand, why are applications to the Teacher Education program at the University of British Columbia increasing?
It seems to defy logic, but Wendy Carr, director of UBC’s Teacher Education Office, says the answer is simple.
“Teaching is a calling,” she says. “It’s much more than a job. Our candidates have a desire to influence the next generation and you cannot shake that from people.”
Despite tumultuous times over the past year, the desire to teach appears to be alive and well.
Preparing global educators
In 2014, about 1,000 people applied for 550 spots in UBC’s Bachelor of Education program, the largest and most comprehensive in the province.
The 12-month BEd program allows students to specialize in a chosen discipline such as theatre, math or languages or in an area like early childhood education.
Many also come to UBC because it is the only university in Canada that offers International Baccalaureate (IB) and Montessori Educator programs. Both tracks, which require some extra coursework, allow graduates to teach anywhere in the world.
According to Carr, students who specialize in a discipline that is in demand, like French, physics or IB, have no trouble finding employment. “The market will seek them out,” she says.
Beyond the traditional classroom
Five years ago, the program introduced a three-week community field experience (CFE) course as part of a strategy to keep pace with the changing market for teachers. Students are placed at non-school sites like museums, aquariums, youth detention centres, and seniors’ homes, in addition to an in-class practicum.
The placements, which span from across B.C. to around the globe in 26 countries, such as Mexico, Swaziland, China, England, and Australia, are designed to make students aware of the value of their degree and the potential career options that exist beyond the traditional school setting.
“We show them there is more than one pathway,” says Carr. “The BEd is a ticket to many worlds, not just into the world of classrooms.”
Out in the field
Recent graduate Elizabeth Kok spent her CFE at O.U.R. Ecovillage, a sustainability education and demonstration site near Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island. In addition to planning day camp curricula for children, she learned about timber framing, cob building and basket weaving.
“The experience was incredibly rewarding because it showed me a completely different way I could use my education degree,” says Kok, who is now an IB teacher at a West Vancouver elementary school. “It gave me a ton of resources and ideas on how to share this knowledge with my future students.”
According to Carr, the CFEs have also bolstered UBC’s rural teacher education efforts over the last two years. Many students strategically choose to do their placements in rural or remote communities in B.C., like Cariboo-Chilcotin, Peace River and Haida Gwaii, with some being offered a permanent teaching job once their placement is over.
‘Nothing will stop me’
The recent B.C. teachers’ strike has raised concerns about the stability of teaching in the province.
However, Carr says the next crop of educators is not naive about the turmoil.
“They enter our program with their eyes wide open about the teaching climate,” she says. “They’ve grown up having experienced periods of job action, so it’s not new to them.”
Sian Weatherley, another recent IB-track graduate, began teaching Grade 3 this year at a Surrey elementary school. She remains undaunted by the recent labour unrest.
“Nothing will stop me from wanting to be a teacher,” she says. “Government is always changing, so I can only hope that we will have one that sees education and support of our children as a top priority.”