October 2009 Event

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Is Teaching A Profession or A Vocation
By Thierry Dime Bolla

In the vast majority of schools, September usually means the start of classes. This year is no exception to the rule: some will discover school for the first time while some others will be at the end of their curses or simply continue their studies to go to higher class. Whatever the situation, there is a questioning about the need for school today and its role in our future lives.In the past, a student who had just a high school degree could start working or have a professional life. Today, even a master’s degree is not a guarantee to finding a job as companies ask more from their future employees. As a result, people often are obliged to do jobs unrelated to their degree.

The major changes that our society has experienced in the last decades have shaken the foundations of the modern world. Few years ago, the family was mainly taking care of the education of children. Today, in a society where both parents work and where children are increasingly left to themselves, the education is not the main priority.

When looking at this situation, the common attitude is to find who is responsible, ignoring that we are the real culprits, we parents, which means in short, the whole society. In this search for the culprit, teachers or educators are often the best scapegoat to point the finger at while the latter, as society is helpless. Therefore, the teaching profession end in a situation that leads to a crisis of vocation. In addition the continued enrollment growth and the declining working conditions further increase the severe shortage of teachers.

Nevertheless, we can still find young people who have kept intact the flame and have decided to choose teaching as their future profession and amongst them Gabrielle, a young teacher, who starts this year her real baptism of fire as a teacher.

Isn’t it surprising to see more young people like you interested in teachings?
The attractiveness of teaching remains, young students are still interested in this profession. In my opinion, the shortages faced by our societies are not attributable to the lack of new teachers. We must look elsewhere if we want to find the source of the problem. As a recent graduate, I can easily confirm that many educated students have completed their studies brilliantly and have all the qualification to practice. Things get a little complicated when entering the labour market. In my opinion, the profession is not considered at fair value. Teachers are constantly watched, they are criticized, given a say about their work, a say that would not be accepted in another profession. Would you tell your dentist how to do his job? Generally, the answer is no because we well know that we do not have sufficient knowledge to do so. I think it should be the same for the teaching profession. It is important to remember that teachers have received training that makes them competent to form the responsible citizens of tomorrow. The society is interfering too much and imposes a way of doing things that prevent teachers to have a total freedom in the way they teach. After extensive discussions with several teachers with different professional experience, I can confirm that this constant pressure is difficult to manage. Because of this, many will seek another position or even change profession. In Quebec, it is not uncommon for teachers to recycle and become counsellors’ or work in the administration.

Where does your vocation as a teacher comes from?
I find the question well formulated. I actually think that to be a teacher, one must have a vocation. At least the presence of this vocation differentiates teachers from good teachers. I do not think we can pursue that profession for a lifetime without a vocation. In my case, I always wanted to be a teacher. I do not even remember thinking about something else when I enrolled in college. (Note that normal schools were abolished in Quebec and replaced by 4 years of college).

As you have travelled frequently between Switzerland and Canada, is the teaching approached different in both countries?
I completed my training in Quebec and I gained all my experience as a teacher in that country. It is difficult for me to answer this question. It could however be worth mentioning that the current education program in Quebec is based on a reform that Switzerland has abolished following a referendum (in canton of Geneva). I must say that this is not an exact copy, but when looking at both programs, one quickly realizes the similarities. Quebec has taken several educational values from Switzerland, including differentiated instruction, and has thereby, influenced the current school system in Quebec, including Perrenoud, among the latter.

What do you think of the popular opinion in Switzerland which believes that teachers are privileged as they work less than 25 hours per week, while earning more than 6000 CHF per month and have almost 4 months vacation a year?
Anywhere in the world the salary and benefits of teachers are always source of discussion. In Quebec, people almost say the same thing than in Switzerland. This is because of a lack knowledge of the teaching profession. As previously said, we would never hear the same criticisms for another profession. I don’t feel like going into the eternal debate, but I simply advise to all those who are maintaining these old stereotypes, to find out more about the profession. Teachers work more hours than stated. There are countless hours even if officially, teachers are paid for those 25 hours of work, but in the reality, teachers have a lot of unpaid overtime. Just think about the hours spent planning and preparing courses or making corrections. Do not forget that teachers are not limited only to play their role as educators, but are often social workers. Teachers spend certainly a lot of time with children outside school hours. Their goal is of course the absolute desire to see students succeed.

On the eve of the new school year, how you feel and what are your goals?
I’m looking forward to this first year of teaching. The contract that I have this year will be tedious, since I will not teach in a single class. I will teach to several groups of different levels. This work experience will probably give me a new teaching opening. The ultimate goal is obviously to get that every child achieves the prescribed learning and to proceed the next level.

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