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Gary Mason

Want bleak? Try getting a teaching job Add to ...

Once upon a time, a teaching certificate was a ticket to an instant job and all the benefits that went with it - good pay, plenty of time off, a handsome retirement package. Well, not any more. Teaching is just another profession where it's no longer business as usual.

My niece and her husband arrived in Vancouver last summer so she could take a job with a seniors' advocacy group. She's a lawyer, her husband a teacher. He was lucky to find a job in Toronto five years earlier when you could still graduate from teachers college and get into an elementary school classroom.

Rob is the kind of teacher kids love: young, hip, smart, funny. But, in Vancouver, he can't even get on a sub list. This, despite the fact that British Columbia has seen a precipitous drop in the number of male teachers - less than 30 per cent of the K-12 teachers in B.C. classrooms are men.

But there are fewer teaching spots in B.C. overall. In the past five years, the number of full-time teaching positions has dropped by nearly 900. Young people trying to get a foothold in the field aren't being helped by the fact that there are teachers still delivering lessons who, in the past, would have been on a golf course by now.

In 2006-07, there were 92 B.C. educators (teachers and administrators) 65 and over; today, there are 254. In the same period, the number of educators between 60 and 64 has climbed from 1,057 to 1,768. Given that the preponderance of these educators are teachers, it means fewer jobs for those entering the profession.

The situation is equally bleak in Ontario. According to a just-released report from the Ontario College of Teachers, a full-time job was out of reach for most young teachers. The study found that almost one in four graduates of teaching programs wasn't able to find a job, not even supply teaching.

It's the continuation of a frightening trend in the province where involuntary unemployment among first-year teachers has grown to 24 per cent from only 3 per cent in 2006. For those who did some teaching in their first year, the underemployment rate rose to 43 per cent in 2010 from 27 per cent in 2006. So two-thirds of teaching grads could not find a full-time job in 2010.

What's going on? For starters, there are fewer kids to teach. But like B.C., teachers in the Ontario system are retiring later than ever. From 1998 to 2002, the average number of those retiring annually was 7,200; from 2006 to 2010, that number had fallen to 4,700. Meantime, the teachers' pension plan forecasts that retirements will remain under 5,000 annually over the next seven years.

Given that retirement creates almost all of the jobs in the profession, you can see how a massive teacher surplus has been created. Needless to say, kids - and schools - are beginning to get the message. According to the Ontario College of Teachers, the number of applicants has begun a steady decline. From a peak of 16,500 in 2007, applicant numbers fell to about 12,500 last year. But that still represents 7,500 more students than there are jobs.

In B.C., schools such as the University of British Columbia are reducing the number of spots in their teaching programs. Rita Irwin, associate dean of teacher education at UBC, said that, next fall, there will be only 700 positions available, down from 1,100 a decade earlier.

Ms. Irwin said students are being encouraged to take a practicum in settings other than schools, such as libraries and museums. Because, she says, this is where many teaching grads are ending up these days - at least for the short term. "We've been told that the situation will begin to turn around in five years or so. But it does seem pretty desperate right now."

So what can be done about it? Not much, it seems. Governments can't insist that teachers should retire earlier or that couples should have more children. I guess teaching just represents another dead end for kids seeking jobs today.

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