Canadian Teaching and Cross-Border Training: An Interview With a Leading Education Consultant

Penny Bissett

Over the next 10 years, school boards across Canada can expect a shortage of teachers, especially in math and science, according to a 2002 Ministry of Education study. Primary and secondary school faculties are aging; by 2008, 48% of the current teaching force will be eligible for retirement, leaving openings for new teachers. In Ontario alone, by 2010 as many as 49,000 new teachers--20% of the current teaching workforce--will be needed in the public and private schools.

But even as the demand for teachers increases in Canada, entering Canadian teaching colleges remains difficult. Applicants to teacher-training programs face restrictive admission quotas and inflexible educational calendars. And within Canada, there's no alternative to a degree at a Canadian teaching college.

Fortunately, though, there is an alternative, just not within Canada's borders. These days, many aspiring teachers in Canada are heading south.

Penny Bissett, an independent educational consultant, helps Canadian students hook up with U.S.-based teacher-training programs. A 30-year veteran of college recruitment and admissions, she also helps develop recruitment plans for international universities interested in recruiting Canadian students. (D'Youville College, which Bissett mentions in the interview below, is one of her clients). Next Wave interviewed Bissett to get her perspectives on teacher-training programs available to Canadians and her advice about becoming a schoolteacher in Canada.

NW: How would you describe the current teacher-training situation across Canada ?

For many years, admission to Canadian Faculties of Education has been highly competitive. A great deal of this competition is a result of government funding cutbacks causing the universities to restrict the number of seats they have to offer applicants. (In Canada, universities are funded by each provincial government; there are no private universities.) In some regions, well-qualified students can expect to wait as long as 2 to 3 years for entrance.

NW: What are the biggest challenges facing new applicants in the Canadian system?

Due to the competition caused by lack of funding, universities are taking students with the highest grades first, which quickly fills their quotas. Because they are strapped financially, few universities have the time or staff required to interview applicants or take into consideration whether the applicant might make a great teacher, based on their passion for teaching or other experiences. Their grades are plugged into a computer, and it spits out the top academic applicants, and those are the few that get offers. Hence, many students who perhaps don't have the highest grades but would be wonderful teachers don't get the chance.

NW: Do advance-degree science graduates have any advantage in admissions?

In most cases, the system is as automated as I described. However, I would add that applicants with advanced degrees in science would certainly get a second look before they are dumped into the pile. In some cases, a university admissions office may even look at all the applicants with graduate degrees separately from the undergrad applicants--especially if their specific science field is one that is currently in need of teachers.

They certainly shouldn't have a problem meeting the requirements for the program, although they wouldn’t get any advanced standing in the program. Due to the fact that these training programs are intensely focused on the teaching methods and related subjects, there are usually fewer applicants to the science areas than the other subject disciplines, which can give them preference. Having advanced science degrees means that their academic background, upon completion of the teachers program, will be very appealing to school boards seeking well-qualified teachers in science.

I cannot speak for boards of education; however, it is my opinion that they would look very favourably upon applicants with advanced-degree backgrounds when considering salary levels as well. In addition, advanced degrees coupled with teaching experience will provide the teacher with a faster track to a headship in their department.

NW: What would you say is the biggest development lately in teacher training in Canada ?

A major development, certainly in Ontario, would have to be that thousands of teachers are reaching retirement and/or are taking early retirement. This is leaving a good market for new teachers. Most importantly, teachers in science and math are the most sought after. On the other hand, there will always be more English and history teachers than the market will ever require. Also, there is a great need for male teachers in primary grades; they have always been in demand.

NW: Are there big differences in applying for teacher training programs between universities and/or provinces?

To my knowledge, there isn't much difference. Of course, some universities are able to interview, which at least gives the student an opportunity to showcase their enthusiasm for teaching, but other than that, most are restricted in the number they can admit and therefore are taking the "cream of the crop" academically.

NW: How long does it take in Canada to become a teacher?

The usual process is a 4-year undergraduate degree plus 1 year at a Faculty of Education. Some universities offer the practicum concurrently and others consecutively. Of course, many continue on for teaching specialties, such as "special education" and, of course, to master's programs.

NW: Would this application process be any different for someone who already has an undergraduate or even a graduate degree?

[A postgraduate] applicant would apply for direct entry into a Canadian faculty of education for a 1-year program to receive a bachelor of education [degree]. A degree in education here in Canada is undergraduate, awarded as a second undergrad degree. There is also the master's path, which will take approximately 1.5 years. A master's graduate would not necessarily be granted any advanced standing as the education programs are focused on teaching methods and theory, with usually no elective areas to which other academic subjects could be credited.

NW: What is attracting Canadians to U.S. colleges?

Originally, Canadian students sought education programs south of the border primarily due to the fact that they cannot gain admission to a Canadian faculty. Because most of the U.S. programs offer admission three times a year, this also enables them to choose when they wish to do the program. After many years of U.S. colleges offering these programs, they are now becoming popular just because of their reputation and flexibility of their schedules, etc. So now students are often choosing the U.S. schools without even attempting to apply to the Canadian programs.

The U.S. programs, although full-time in content, offer students a 2-day-a-week schedule; some have classes on the weekends as well. This enables students who are working at jobs to arrange to attend; those with families can work it out as well. There is a large percentage of students who have been working in other fields and are making major career changes who tend to go to the U.S. programs. [Some] U.S. colleges, such as D'Youville College in Buffalo, New York, cater specifically to the Canadian students.

NW: Are there any Canadian institutes that offer a fast-track program?

Not that I am aware of.

NW: Are Canadian teaching programs stricter or harder to get into than U.S. counterparts?

Once again, due to the competition in Ontario schools, academics play the major role in admission selection. Therefore the grades tend to be higher for admission in Canada than in the various programs in the United States. Remember, the U.S. schools have intake three times a year, which increases students' chances for admission as well.

NW: Are there any Canadian grants, scholarships, or other financial aid available for cross-border education?

Unfortunately, there is very little financial assistance available to leave Canada to study anything, anywhere, unless a U.S. university offers its own scholarships, grants, etc., which is not common. Students are eligible for their provincial government loan programs across Canada, and there are a couple of U.S. companies such as International Education Finance Corporation that offer low-interest loans to Canadians going to the United States to study.

NW: How common is it for colleges in the States to offer such programs for Canadians?

Many colleges in the States offer teacher-ed programs, but few of them are recognized by the Canadian Provincial Colleges of Teachers. Ontario has the greatest number of U.S.-trained teachers simply due to the Buffalo-area colleges that have been offering the Ontario curriculum for so many years. These colleges do specifically cater to the Canadian market. D'Youville College has been doing it the longest (20 years), and they have the highest number of Canadian students attending every year (900 to 1000). In fact they have the highest number of Canadian students in the entire U.S. college/university system.

NW: What is it like to do cross-border teacher training?

Cross-border teacher training usually involves more commuting than if you were to stay in Canada to attend a Faculty of Education. Therefore, there are more plans to be made regarding possible car-pooling, overnight stays in college residences, or off-campus accommodations. In the New York state programs, the students all do their practice teaching here in Ontario.

NW: How are cross-border degrees looked upon by the Canadian educational system?

There are more and more U.S.-trained teachers in our Canadian system. In Ontario, it is most common to have at least one in most schools. They are not discriminated against in any way.

NW: To improve chances for acceptance into a teacher training program, what kind of experience/background is it important to have?

At most U.S. education schools, you are required to submit a work résumé and letters of recommendation along with your academic transcripts. Letters of recommendation can be very impressive from people with whom the applicant has worked. The referee should state why they feel the applicant would make a good teacher based on their working with them or being their supervisor. Working with young people whether volunteer or paid is an asset and should be emphasized on the résumé and with letters of recommendation. Certainly, if one is going to be a science teacher, then working in science camps or volunteering with science clubs would be impressive.

The only disadvantage sometimes is that if an applicant has been away from formal postsecondary education for many years, there is always a concern as to whether they will be able to slip back into the rigors and discipline of academic study.

More information about teaching in Canada

Teachers apply for positions in Canada directly to a particular school board or jurisdiction. To find listings of school boards, applicants should consult the Web site of the ministry of education for a specific province or territory.

Check out all the detailed information on becoming a teacher in Canada including salary expectations and certification requirements for every province on the Canadian Teachers Federation Web site.

NW: Any advice and tips for those looking to transition into this profession from the sciences?

Applicants with advanced degrees in science as well as working experience in their field have the advantage of bringing much more to the classroom than those who have come directly from undergraduate study in university.

Those considering a move from careers in the sciences should ensure that they have some experience with young people in a supervisory or teaching position. A decision to return to university after being in a career and/or having a family, etc., requires support from all those who will be affected by your return to school. Do your research to find the program that best suits your lifestyle and schedules.

The cost of a U.S. program is much greater than for those here in Canada. Arrangements to provide proof, in writing, of how you will finance your program is required from all U.S. schools. Check out all your options regarding costs, tuition, payment plans, etc.

You will find that U.S. colleges will give you great personal attention and are very accessible for questions along the way. Attend information sessions offered by the college, as they are always very informative.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor .

Andrew Fazekas is a correspondent at Next Wave and may be reached at

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