TeacherCon & digital revolution in education

Whoa, what is going on? Are we actually in the midst of a digital revolution in education? I mean, I always liked teacher conferences when I was teaching at the university level, but they were never readily available for the rank and file classroom teacher.

Sure “principals and lead teachers” got to go out of town for a day or two, but not the rest of us. The best we could hope for during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, was an occasional Professional Development Day (or Professional Activity Day as they were called by some boards). Those activities, however, were usually organized through our local teacher’s union rather than the school board.

But, make no mistake about it, TeacherCon is very different. It is about significant, relevant teacher learning, in this case, dealing with the reality of the digital revolution.

So, what is TeacherCon all about? It is about making sure all teachers and children in Grades K to 12 are literate in the latest technology. For example, check out http://www.canadalearningcode.ca. They state, for example, that their conferences offer a multi-day event designed for teachers by teachers teaching educators how to teach web design, coding and programming in their classrooms.

Specifically, they give five quick points as to what they are all about.

Point One: It’s free. In fact, the TeacherCon organization even offers travel stipends to teachers who really want to go but can’t afford it, such as a single parent or because the teacher just started teaching. Sure, new teachers would learn some of the latest digital issues, but certainly not everything. As I recall, up to the year 2000, public school boards didn’t even have the budgets for such a stipend.

Point Two: At least least fifteen TeacherCon events will be held in 12 different locations in Canada during 2019.

Point Three: Each teacher who attends a TeacherCon will leave with a kit of practical tips and resources.

Point Four: As a mentioned above, workshops not only cover practical tech help on web design, HTML and processing, they also dive into the various tools introduced.

Point Five: Teachers, based on conference reviews, are really loving the process.

Now, if someone is reading this and they are not an educator, believe me # 5 is huge. I taught both teacher preparation and graduate teacher education, and teachers are notoriously hard to please. So, the workshops must be very relevant to get participants to take a car, train or plane to get where they are going and actually feel positive about the outcome.

I have been very critical of public education the last decade but this process seems very much worth everyone’s time. What I noticed, as well, in researching this story, is that Teacher Conventions are popping up everywhere.

Take a look at this Google page on teacher conferences in 2019. True, many are in the U.S. but for Canadian educators wanting to travel, there are:

  • College Math Prepation, being held in California — which is currently so popular it is sold out.
  • Get Your Teach On in Dallas Texas.
  • Innovative School Summit in Las Vegas.
  • Best practices for teaching literacy in Baltimore, Maryland.

The crux of the matter is that, while I don’t always agree with all the new innovations, some are very relevant to today’s world, particularly tech. Of course, literacy and math preparation are always relevant we well. In the Math case, which I have written about before, I hope old fashioned methods and drills are once again back in fashion.


Going to teacher’s college? 100 ways to succeed!

If you are thinking about becoming a teacher, or are a new teacher, a must-read website is “smartteaching.org.” In particular, mark as a favourite this most recent posting entitled Baptism by Fire: 100 essential tips and resources for student teachers.”

I wish a resource vehicle like that had been available when I started teaching because my first week’s planning for both a grade six language arts class and visual art on rotary was enough to last nearly a full month’s work!!! Ah well, much better to be overplanned than under.

In any event, all practising teachers will no doubt nod their heads when I speak of the stark terror you will feel when you are facing a class of 30-40 students for the first time. What if they won’t listen to me? What if I can’t maintain class control? What ifs galore. But, what student teachers don’t realize is that the kids are just as nervous as you are. The bottom line is to somehow not show that nervousness while being comfortable with yourself.  

Back to the “Baptism by fire” article. It starts off with general tips and relevant blogs. They then go on to list guides and tools, sample lesson plans, classroom management techniques, forums, advice from others, professional organizations, resume and interview ideas and last, but not least, a list of resource books.

With that many tips and resources at your finger tips, you can’t help succeed. But, one thing: Don’t forget about parents. The list of 100 only includes one specific item regarding parents — # 4 under “general tips.” Remember, if you have thirty students, you have up to sixty parents. All of them care about their kids and they want them to succeed even more than you.

So, learn how to communicate with the parents. And please, don’t put a bureaucratic and professional wall between you and them. If you can avoid doing that, plus all the technical stuff you will or have learned — guaranteed — you will have a long and productive teaching career.

Want to be a teacher?

Thinking of becoming a teacher in Ontario? Think about it very carefully because there is currently a surplus of teacher graduates. How could that happen — particularly when we were told during the late 1990’s that there was going to be a huge teacher shortage in the years ahead?

According to a recent Macleans article, one of the reports that made the “shortage” claim in 1998 was by Frank McIntyre, Manager of Human Resources at the Ontario College of Teachers. Interestingly, it is McIntyre himself who released an update last week which states that we actually have a “surplus” of teacher graduates — meaning there are more teachers than there are jobs. For example:

“Just over 40 per cent of 2006 grads found a fulltime job in their first year after graduating. Only 25 per cent of elementary school teachers find work.” 

While the Macleans authors claim that many of the baby boomer teachers (who retired in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s) went back on part-time contracts, taking jobs away from younger teacher education graduates — that would be wrong. While that no doubt happened in some larger Ontario boards of education, most have a policy where they refuse to hire retirees — the District Board of Niagara being one of those boards. Moreover, the teachers’ unions frown on the practice because they want new members.

In any event, how did the surplus happen and why is it significant? Well, it happened after the 1998 report because the Ontario Ministry of Education added 5000 new teacher training spots over five years — suggesting that had enrollment been left as it was there would have been enough teaching jobs to go around. It is significant because bad news does not necessarily discourage a lot of mature students and university graduates who consider applying for admission to a teachers college. Whatever the case, this latest Macleans article is required reading for anyone considering applying to teacher’s college. 

However, contrary to what many think, the current teacher surplus is not a new situation — although it certainly could have been avoided. In the late 1960’s, in Ontario at least, school boards used to have what they called “cattle auctions.” Boards of Education would set up tables in a large hotel ballroom and new teacher graduates would simply go from table to table with their resume, very quickly getting a formal “offer.”

Those days disappeared in 1970. I know because I attended teacher’s college during 1971/72 and by the time I finished, the province was in the middle of its first ever surplus.  However, I was one of the lucky ones because my specialty was visual arts, which was popular at that time because of the Hall Dennis Report “Living and Learning.” I got offered a job on the very last day of my last teaching block in late May, one of only sixteen people hired by a Niagara area public board. I started at the Grades 7 & 8 level that September, 1972 and from then on until the early to mid 1990’s there was very little hiring.

However, a good teacher can always get a job if they are really flexible and mobile — although not always a full-time permanent job. Some can even get jobs in the geographic area of their choice depending on their subject specialties. For example, there are usually teaching jobs available in the vocational subjects, the sciences, French, music and math. 

Whatever the case, if a reader is considering teacher’s college, they need to do a lot of online research.  They need to go to each board of education’s website and look to see what jobs are available now and the year before. And, check often.

As I said at the start of this article, thinking of becoming a teacher? Think again — and again — and again!


Notes:  Having taught in a Faculty of Education, I have a few tips regarding applying for admission to any teacher training program — whether a concurrent or consecutive program. Fill out the volunteer and work experience forms VERY carefully. Include babysitting, camp work, anything at all you have done with children and make sure you can back that information up with references.  In most Canadian faculties of education, admission is based on 60% grade point average and 40% experience.