The Voice of Canadian Teachers on Teaching and Learning

By Bernie Froese-Germain
November 8, 2011

Photo : iStockphoto\michaeljung


Discussions of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation Work Group on Teaching Quality have focused on a number of themes and issues related to the teaching profession in Canada. These include the need to give voice to teachers’ values and beliefs about teaching and learning; to articulate and promote teachers’ vision of public education; to promote teachers as public leaders in learning, both student learning and their own professional learning; to affirm and promote the collective knowledge of the teaching profession; to “affirm our profession”.

Another theme is the recognition that there are a number of powerful forces serving to undermine public education, among them neoliberal accountability policies and the application to education of narrow economic motives and market ideologies. These forces are putting pressure on teachers and schools which can leave teachers feeling undervalued – one example is the growing U.S. trend of evaluating teachers on the basis of student test scores.

The CTF Work Group identified the need for a national research project that would give voice to teacher perspectives on teaching and learning in Canada’s public schools. Great significance was put on the need for teacher organizations to ensure that the teacher voice is heard in visioning for the future of education, as it is the profession that should be positioned as an authoritative voice on teaching and learning. This belief is grounded in two assumptions:

1. Teachers are the classroom experts. As such it is critically important that K-12 educational decisions be informed by their professional knowledge and expertise.

2. Increasingly, educational policy decisions are being informed by people with little or no background in public education, and without the input of teachers.

This national research project is being conducted by the CTF in collaboration with its Member teacher organizations.  The intent of the project is to expose the voice of teachers concerning their perspectives on teaching and learning in Canada’s public schools, drawing on the substantial pool of experience, expertise and knowledge they possess, with a view to informing and influencing education policy decisions to enhance the quality of our public schools for the future benefit of all Canadians.

The knowledge base on effective teaching and learning is constantly evolving. This knowledge base must be created by all stakeholders, and that includes the teaching profession. Teachers’ expertise and experience is not only critical to informing policy and practice but also to promoting the broad vision of a public education system that serves the public good.


Modes of Inquiry

The final research report, released in July 2011 at the CTF President’s Forum and Annual General Meeting in Ottawa, consists of two components:

  • A national teacher survey
  • Selected examples of teacher organization research and other initiatives showcasing the teacher voice on diverse education issues (varying modes of inquiry were used by the teacher organizations in their research)

CTF National Teacher Survey

In Spring 2011 CTF conducted an online teacher survey entitled The Teacher Voice on Teaching and Learning.

Teachers were surveyed on a wide range of issues including:

  • what attracts teachers to the profession
  • why teachers remain in teaching
  • why beginning teachers leave the profession
  • public respect for the teaching profession
  • the purpose of public education
  • major challenges facing public education over the next decade
  • teachers’ rapport with students, as well as the most rewarding aspects of their relationship with students
  • teachers’ level of satisfaction regarding their ability to meet children’s needs
  • the impact that specific challenges faced by students have on their ability to succeed in school
  • the impact of educational changes on teachers’ ability to help their students achieve to their potential
  • the impact of educational changes on teachers’ ability to teach effectively
  • changes that teachers would make to the public education system to maximize students’ potential and improve their quality of education

The survey which consisted of quantitative and qualitative questions was e-mailed to over 4,300 educators from 12 participating CTF Member organizations. Responses were collected from 434 respondents, for an overall response rate of just under 10%.
Selected survey findings are presented in the report including a sample of teacher responses to the open-ended survey questions. These responses reflect a diversity of viewpoints on a range of issues regarding teaching and learning in our public schools.

These are among the findings from the national survey:

The teacher voice on why teachers enter the profession

  • 9 in 10 Canadian teachers indicated that the fact that they “Enjoy working with children” was a “very” important factor regarding their decision to become a teacher, ranking it the highest among 9 factors surveyed.
    • Over 8 in 10 teachers also reported the following factors as “very” important: “Making a difference in children’s lives” (87%); “Helping develop and motivate children” (86%); and “Love of learning” (85%).

The teacher voice on why teachers remain in the profession

  • 86% of Canadian teachers indicated that the fact that they “Enjoy working with children” was a “very” important factor regarding their decision to remain in teaching, ranking it the highest among 10 factors surveyed.
    • Over 8 in 10 teachers also reported the following factors as “very” important: “Making a difference in children’s lives” (82%); “Enjoy teaching/job satisfaction” (81%); and “Being good at your job”’ (80%).

The teacher voice on why teachers leave the profession

  • 84% of Canadian teachers indicated “Heavy workload” as a “very” important factor influencing the decision of some beginning teachers to leave the profession, ranking it the highest among 12 factors surveyed.
  • At least 8 in 10 respondents also consider “Work-related stress” (82%) and “High expectations/Increasing demands on teachers” (80%) to be “very” important factors.

The teacher voice on satisfaction with their decision to become a teacher

  • 8 in 10 teachers said they would make the same choice to become a teacher if they could go back in time.

Voices From the Classroom – Examples of Teacher Organization Research Initiatives

The report also provides examples of Canadian teacher organization research and other initiatives that fit within the theme of the teacher voice on teaching and learning. This is not intended to be exhaustive but is rather a sampling of teacher organization research to illustrate the breadth and depth of the important work being done with and on behalf of Canadian teachers.

A brief summary of each initiative as well as highlights of findings and proposed recommendations generated from the findings are included in the report.

This section showcases the teacher voice on a broad range of education issues:

  • Teacher retention / Beginning teachers
  • Workload / Workplace stress / Teacher well-being
  • Inclusion / Class composition
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Curriculum evaluation
  • School financial support by teachers and communities
  • Poverty and schools
  • Teaching in Francophone minority settings
  • Aboriginal education
  • International cooperation
  • Professional learning
  • Technology in education
  • Quality public education
  • Future of teaching and learning


Significance of the Study

The CTF research report demonstrates that there is a great deal of important research being conducted by Canadian teacher organizations that captures classroom teachers’ views on a range of K-12 education issues.

Teachers are saying similar things in different parts of the country. For example while most teachers find teaching to be a satisfying profession and generally have confidence in their capabilities to address diverse student needs, given the increasing complexity of teaching they express a growing need for support on a number of fronts: inclusion, workload and work-related stress, class size, access to professional development, inadequate resources, rapidly changing technology, and assessment and accountability strategies combined with other external pressures.

Another important commonality is that teachers’ values and beliefs about teaching and learning speak to a strong desire to place the best interests of children at the heart of public education.

Why is inclusion of the teacher voice so important when it comes to meaningful change in education?

The first International Summit on the Teaching Profession was held in New York City in March 2011. In its background paper for the summit, Education International, a global federation of teacher unions of which CTF is a member, notes that “Successful education reform cannot be achieved without the involvement and consent of teachers, education workers and their school communities …. Reforms must factor in the engagement and capacity of the teaching profession.”

The OECD’s background report for the Summit, Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons From Around the World, also stresses the importance of meaningful teacher engagement in the development and implementation of educational reform – “school reform will not work unless it is supported from the bottom up.” The report goes on to say that “open and ongoing systematic dialogue and consultation are fundamental to the process. Such dialogue should recognize that teachers are experts in teaching and learning and thus can make an essential contribution to the design of reforms.”

In her post-Summit message, former CTF President Mary-Lou Donnelly observed that Summit participants voiced a shared interest in elevating the professional status of teachers, partnering with teachers in education reform to produce successful outcomes, and building collaboration between teacher unions and education leaders to ensure overall progress. A common thread running through the Summit was the need to increase teacher participation in decision-making as a vital component of educational reform, as well as the importance of education ministries and teacher organizations working together to improve public education.

Throughout the Summit, Canada emerged as having one of the most successful education systems in the world, being referenced several times by many of the participants. Comments from the Canadian delegation spoke to our highly educated teaching force, the importance of professional development, ongoing relations between ministries/departments of education and education stakeholders, and the importance of public education in building Canadian society and strengthening our democracy.

Increasingly, other countries are looking to Canada in terms of how we support teachers. Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association, remarked in USA Today (Dec. 2010) that,

PISA’s top-performing countries show us that the way forward is by elevating the teaching profession. Among the hallmarks of high-performers such as Canada and Finland are strong teachers unions and evaluation systems that identify, support and advance effective teaching …. The work of teachers should be assessed, but there is no simple, easy way to evaluate a profession that combines many different tasks, from explaining content to inspiring students to maintaining order in class …. The lesson from PISA is clear: Respect teachers and treat them like professionals. The U.S. should focus on what leading countries are doing and learn from their example.

One of the most important ways we can respect teachers and treat them like professionals is by listening closely to what they have to say about their area of expertise: teaching and learning. We need to utilize this knowledge to effect better decision making regarding education policy and practice. This research contributes to that process.

Bernie Froese-Germain is a Researcher with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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