Along with Finland and Shanghai, Canada is a top performing education system that is also relatively equitable. So what are its teachers doing?
Lucy Crehan is a teacher on an educational mission to give some insights on education in top performing systems from a teacher’s perspective. Over the next 9 months she will share her experience of work in schools in 8 systems that do well in the international PISA rankings at insideclassrooms.com.
Salary: Although teacher pay varies across the provinces, on average Canadian teacher salaries compare favourably to salaries in other OECD countries; only Luxembourg and Germany pay their teachers more. Teachers also fare well compared to other Canadians with post secondary qualifications.
Class sizes: Having come from Finland, Canadian classrooms felt more like home to me, as their class sizes are above the OECD average. They are still not as big as England’s though (our average is 26.1).
Pay progression: In British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario – the three top performing provinces – teachers’ pay scales are negotiated at a local or regional level rather than at a school board level. These pay scales are based on number of years teaching, qualifications and extra training.
A day in the life of a teacher
6.00 Wake up. Have to get up at the crack of dawn to finish my marking. A double espresso from my coffee machine gets me going.
7:30 Leave for school. Drop off my daughter at kindergarten on the way. In BC they start learning through play in kindergarten at 5. Last week she was involved in a project pondering the question “is a spider a good guy or a bad guy?”
8.00 Prepare for the day. Make a pot of coffee in the Science office, prepare the equipment that I need for the day (there are no Science technicians), and photocopy some tests for later.
8.30 Physics 11. We are beginning a new unit on forces, so I begin with a partner talk to generate some ideas on definitions and categories of forces, discuss their ideas and give some notes. I then give the kids my “you are made out of nothing, and you will never touch another person” rant. They love it! I always try, at the beginning of each new unit, to leave the kids with a concept that challenges them. The CAPE of rigour: Complex, Ambiguous, Provocative and Emotionally engaging.
9:30 TAG (Teacher Advisory Group). This is in our home room (my lab) and includes students from across the year groups – grade 9 to 11. In Canada students attend middle school in years 7 and 8, so year 9s are the youngest we have. I read announcements, talk to kids in the school musical about their rehearsal schedules, and discuss with whole TAG the fundraising drive to get $ for our earthquake survival food stash.
9.52 Science 10. Science 10 is one of only five classes the students take a provincial exam in throughout the whole of secondary school, so we are doing practice tests. Before tests, I try to give as much practice as the kids can stomach. Some require much more practice than others, and this is difficult to accommodate for, but I do. One of the many reasons I do not give homework marks is because kids all need to do different amounts of homework to be successful.
10:52 “Break”. I try to run downstairs and go pee. No luck. Stopped by a student who has a question about the kinematics pre-test. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow.
11:02 Science 9 ‘ungraded’. We want students to focus on achieving the learning outcomes rather than on just getting the grades, so this year, we are trying out an ‘ungraded course’ with half of the grade 9s, in which they will receive only formative feedback throughout the course. We’ll then compare their progress with the other year 9 group as they go through years 10 and 11.
12:08 Lunch. Ha ha ha ha ha… lunch. Good one! My room is packed. It is this way before any unit test. I work through lunch everyday helping kids, and after school about twice a week by appointment. In Canada, because of union bargaining, teachers do not need to make themselves available at any time outside of class time. We do not need to be at work early, or stay late. Of course, you would pretty much suck as a teacher if you followed that style.
1:02 Physics 12 (Advanced placement). From grade 10 upwards, we have some advanced placement classes made up of the brightest students in certain subjects; apart from these, our classes our mixed ability. As there is no provincial assessment for Physics 12, we don’t need to drill for exams, and for this session the students have been given the task of designing their own experiment in groups. They got on well with this task, after a brief tangential discussion on university life.
2.13 Free period. I’m away on a training day next week, so my first job is to sort out cover, and see if the supervisor I usually get in is available. Most new teachers start off as teachers on call, so the staff room pin board is covered in their business cards. Luckily she is, and I then spend the rest of the time planning for tomorrow.
3:13 End of school day. Done! Well… a few kids hang around for about 30 minutes asking me stuff. After that, I enter attendance into the computer, wash my dishes, photocopy the tests, and I’m off home by 4:30ish. I’m not taking much home with me this evening, but I will have to make up an answer key for the test and answer some emails from parents and students.
Editor’s note: This is not a real day in the life of a teacher, but is based on real days from real teachers, with some added notes for clarification. This blog post has been shared with our readers courtesy of Edapt UK where this post was originally published.