Demand That the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Education Provides Better Support to its Teacher Candidates
The challenges teachers and teacher candidates have faced over the past few years have been unprecedented and have served as an opportunity to broaden our scope of support for learning through a lens of mental health support and care for one another. In response not only to the global pandemic, but through the expectation that post-secondary institutions and professional programs be innovative in their approach, we feel that Teacher Education candidates at the University of Ottawa have faced countless obstacles, many put in place by the institution themselves. Between work-to-rule, strike action, and ongoing COVID-19 protocols and school closures, our quality of learning and our mental health has significantly deteriorated. Throughout this time, the academic expectations placed upon us have continued to be rigorous, and some teachers have shown minimal readiness in adapting to our ever-evolving circumstances. The disparities between different faculties within the University has not only been discouraging but detrimental to the success of many teacher candidates. An example of this would be: the allowance of students within other faculties at the University of Ottawa to benefit from an additional week of rest after the holidays due to the added stress and mental health struggles associated with online learning and COVID -19; however, the Teacher Education faculty was not included. While we would like to show resilience and adaptability, the stress we’ve experienced as university students is tenfold in these unprecedented times.
Additionally, the Faculty of Education’s administrative staff has shown an unwillingness to accommodate our needs as students. Instead of collaborating with us to find solutions to our individual concerns, the Faculty of Education has responded to many of us with harshness, gaslighting, and inflexibility. In particular, the administration has refused to seek online practicum/internship placements for teacher candidates with extraordinary situations (e.g., for those who are outside the province or country, for those who are parents and cannot find a babysitter, and for those who are at risk or whose families are at risk due to COVID-19). Rather, the administration allocated virtual practicum placements to Teacher Education students at random. In short, the Faculty of Education has demonstrated that they have the resources to place us online for our practicums, but has not thought to ask which of us would benefit from these virtual placements. The pandemic has provided us an opportunity to forge stronger relationships with organizations and institutions at a broader scale as online learning removes the barriers of mobility. The University of Ottawa should be taking this opportunity to build connections with more school boards throughout the province, country and world and not simply rely on their archaic systems or ways of thinking.
The last few years have highlighted the disparities that exist within society on a socio-economic level. The University of Ottawa continues to contribute to these disparities through their lack of inclusivity to students who require financial support. As teacher candidates, some of us have been struggling to cover the costs of tuition, rent, and sometimes food. The University of Ottawa rewards exceptional students from most programs with a Merit Scholarship in the amount of $1,000 per semester. However, there are three programs that do not qualify for this scholarship: Medicine, Common Law, and Teacher Education. For many of us, this $1,000 reward per semester would make a profound difference. That being said, it is important to note that students in the Teacher Education program acquire a yearly Merit Scholarship of $1,000. As it stands, both scholarships require students to re-register full-time in the following term to qualify for benefits. Therefore, the yearly Merit Scholarship rewards us with a sum of $1,000 throughout our 2-year program, whereas the semesterly Merit Scholarship for most other programs would reward us with a sum of $3,000 over the same amount of time.
In the past, Teacher Education students would engage in their practicums alongside their learning within the program from September to April. From there, they would find summer jobs for the months of May - August to help pay the high tuition costs. This year, many teacher candidates will not have this opportunity, as practicums have had to be deferred to the spring—yet another unprecedented measure in response to the global pandemic. The support of the faculty must go beyond simply allowing another practicum block; there are other factors that will enhance or take away from this experience. With full-time practicum starting back up in the Spring, some of us will consequently give up our income, which is desperately needed just to survive. Here, we would like to emphasize that our practicum is unpaid. Although we appreciate the opportunity to amass teaching experience, we recognize that experience does not pay our bills.
As teacher candidates, we have learned that great educators must exhibit qualities like flexibility, compassion, and humanity. We have certainly embodied these qualities both within our teaching practicums and towards one another. We now ask that the Faculty of Education reciprocates these qualities.
Specifically, we ask:
- that the Faculty of Education’s administrative staff show more flexibility in meeting our needs as students and, specifically, that they assign virtual practicum placements to those of us who require them most;
- that the Faculty of Education assumes a greater level of ownership and accountability in placing Teacher Education students within physical schools for our practicums, and that they prioritize our health and safety beyond all else;
- that the Faculty of Education provides Teacher Education candidates the option to conduct the Fall 2021 semester online, even if the University opens for in-person classes;
- that the University of Ottawa proposes a road map towards providing more financial support to Teacher Education students and, in particular:
- that the University includes us in the semesterly Merit Scholarship program,
- and that the University advocates for us to be paid for our work as student teachers.
NOTE: For more information about the University of Ottawa’s Policies and Procedures and expectations of teachers and teacher candidates to adhere to ethical standards, see here.