Last week I touched on the idea of getting qualified to teach additional courses. Specifically, I said “don’t get qualified just to get a job. Make sure you want to teach the subjects you’re getting qualified to teach. There is no point getting qualified to teach something you don’t like or aren’t confident to teach.”
For many years, I have been encouraged to get qualified to teach French (or, to “get my FSL”, to use teacher lingo). And if you look at some stats, it makes sense. In Ontario (where I teach), something like 94% of teachers are English preferred language, compared to 6% French. Ontario shares a border with Quebec, and there are a lot of communities that are still very French. There is definitely a need for French teachers in Ontario.
However, there are other statistics to be aware of. The OCT reported in one of their members surveys that 50% of FSL-qualified teachers still don’t have regular (contract or permanent) work. The Ontario government forced teachers’ colleges to only accept students every second year because there is an overwhelming amount of un- or under-employed teachers. Stats I heard around the staff-room table were that there are 10,000 un-/under-employeed teachers in Ontario, and that there are 10 qualified teachers for every one job in Ontario. I don’t know the validity of those “stats”, but if you spend five minutes in Ontario’s education system, you know they can’t be far off.
While there are stats that both encourage and discourage someone from getting their FSL, there is also valuable personal insight: talking to teachers who do have their FSL and getting their opinion on it. And this is where things get interesting. The teachers I know who teach FSL and love it are all primary/junior teachers: those who teach kindergarten through grade 6. The teachers I know who have their FSL and regret getting it are all intermediate/senior qualified:grades 7 through 12.
(Before I move on, I want to stress that this does not include teachers who went through teachers’ college to become French teachers. I am speaking only of the teachers I know who got qualified in FSL with an additional qualification course.)
The FSL teachers I know who hate having their FSL hate it because they have pigeon-holed themselves into teaching one specific subject for the remainder of their careers. I have heard countless stories from new teachers who just wanted to make permanent so they got their FSL and haven’t taught anything but French language or French subjects since then.
French is a protected subject in Ontario, and the way seniority, qualifications, etc. all work out means that new teachers qualified in French, regardless of whatever other qualifications they hold, will be teaching French. This is happening while French teachers who have been in the French classroom for years (decades even) are getting bumped out, and their former position given to a new FSL teacher. I don’t know why this is happening, I don’t know the logic or the legalities behind these moves, but what I do know is they are happening a lot more than just a few isolated cases.
When I was in high school applying to universities (and looking specifically at schools that had their own teachers’ colleges), I remember talking to my aunt who was a teacher. She worked in special education and she told me not to get qualified in something just to get a job. She said she worked with so many teachers who got qualified in spec.ed. because new teachers were being told that having your spec.ed. meant you would get a job faster. She worked with so many teachers who hated spec.ed. and were resentful that it was the only job they could get. That was the attitude they brought into the classroom; a classroom with some of the most vulnerable students around.
So what is the point of the previous 600+ words, other than being my “I will never get my FSL” manifesto? The point is if you’re getting a qualification with the sole purpose of securing employment, you might be doing it for the wrong reasons. It is likely that if I had my FSL I would have gotten a permanent job sooner. However, I would be teaching subjects I don’t have a lot of confidence or comfort with, while speaking and assessing a language I struggle with. Sure, I can go shopping in Quebec and speak retail-French, but when it comes to the intricacies and rules of grammar and vocabulary, I’m not your man. Asking me to teach History is a challenge. Asking me to teach History in French? Yeah, those kids aren’t learning anything.
I want to get qualified in subjects I am passionate about and confident with. I also want to eventually find full-time/permanent work. There is a balance to be found between AQs you love and AQs you need (or “need”). That balance is going to look different for every teacher. A bunch of teachers are going to love teaching French. I love teaching English and Religion and Special Education and Drama. We’ll all find work. Eventually.
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