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Teacher Newsmagazine   Volume 27, Number 3, Jan/Feb 2015  

Teach for Canada program: Slipping toward inequality? 

by Tobey Steeves 

Many Canadians acknowledge the need for improving access to services in Aboriginal and rural communities. One recent response to this dilemma is Teach For Canada, which draws on the model of Teach For America, and purportedly aims to “make education in Canada more equal.” 

Teach For America began as a means of “eliminat[ing] educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach.” For Teach For America, this translates into a vast recruitment apparatus for funneling minimally-trained college graduates into temporary teaching contracts in America’s high-need urban classrooms.

Teach For America has backing from the Eli & Edyth Broad Foundation, The Walton Foundation, Bank of America, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Cisco, Chevron, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, etc. As a result, it is fair to say that Teach For America is influenced—if not led—by a corporate—not democratic—vision of schooling. For Diane Ravitch, outspoken critic of Teach for America and public education advocate, “…it is worth reflecting on the wisdom of allowing education policy to be directed or, one might say, captured by private foundations,” because there “is something fundamentally anti-democratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people.”

Teach For Canada draws on the model of Teach For America in that it “will recruit exceptional young leaders” for two-year contracts. Initially, the plan was for these recruits to be trained at a five-week “intensive summer institute” before placement as classroom teachers in “rural, remote, and Aboriginal communities.”

However, Teach For Canada shifted gears, and now plans to recruit BEd graduates directly from university campuses. Given the uncertain employment prospects facing many graduates, it is likely that a two-year contract will prove enticing. Even so, it is not at all apparent that a plan for increasing the supply of teachers will have any meaningful impact on the attrition of teachers. As a result, Teach For Canada’s focus on the placement of new teachers may actually function as a means of normalizing—if not increasing —teacher turnover in high-need classrooms.

Teach For Canada is also like Teach For America in that it is “captured by private foundations.” For instance, Teach For Canada has backing from private donors like the Boston Consulting Group (one of the largest private companies in the USA, and one of the world’s largest management consultancies), and Tory’s LLP (international corporate law firm focusing on mergers, acquisitions and corporate finance).

It’s worth noting that the co-founders of Teach For Canada have also followed the lead of Teach For America by working behind the scenes with ministries and faculties of education across Canada to kindle support and to learn how to utilize “existing ‘Letter of Permission’ schemes to allow uncertified teachers in the classroom on an exceptional basis.”

Teach For Canada has received a less than enthusiastic reception from teachers. Paul Olson, President of Manitoba’s Teachers’ Society, expressed skepticism over the values guiding Teach For Canada, and questioned Teach For Canada’s potential for success. Olson described Teach For Canada’s plan to place minimally trained teachers into high-need classrooms as likely to “cause more damage than you could possibly ever do good.” Olson regarded Teach For Canada as “preying upon idealistic new grads who genuinely often do want to make a difference and do the right thing and they’re getting used.”

Beneath a thin veneer of nobility and compassion, Teach For Canada relies on dubious assumptions of teachers and teaching, and ignores organizational and socio-cultural concerns while advancing a deeply problematic scheme which purports to make education in Canada more equal, yet will have the opposite effect. Teach For Canada might more aptly be understood as a vehicle for extending Canada’s colonialist legacy, aggravating inequalities, and con­tributing to the de-professionalization of teachers and teaching in Canada.

Advocates for public education in Canada have a role to play in preventing the entrenchment of Teach For Canada.

Meaningful steps include:

  1. build support networks for teachers teaching in high-need rural classrooms.
  2. engage with Aboriginal communities in developing projects that provide local and long-term solutions to increasing equitable access to public education.
  3. support projects that respect Aboriginal sovereignty while resourcing communities to provide local and long-term solutions to increasing equitable access to public education.

In so doing, it is possible that we might move a few steps closer to making education in Canada more equal.

Tobey Steeves teaches at Kitsilano Secondary School, Vancouver 

 


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