Center on International Education Benchmarking

Canada: Teacher and Principal Quality

Overview | Teacher and Principal Quality | Instructional Systems
System and School Organization | Education For All | School-to-Work Transition

Teacher quality is a strength of Canadian education. Ensuring the quality of teachers begins in teacher education programs, which are highly selective and draw from the top high school students in each province. Teacher education programs are generally thought to be academically rigorous. Once in the field, Canadian teachers’ salaries vary widely across the provinces, but are, for the most part, quite high when compared to others with a similar level of education. They are almost always higher than Canada’s GDP per capita, and higher than the OECD average teacher salaries.

Recruitment and Compensation

Canada is consistently able to recruit high-quality students into teaching, with the majority of prospective teachers drawn from the top 30% of their college cohorts. The perception among Canadian students is that it is much easier to get into a teacher education program next door in the United States than in their own country.  Teachers in Canada typically need at least a bachelor’s degree plus one year of teacher education before they can teach, although provinces may also impose additional certification requirements.

Canadian teacher salaries are determined on the provincial level and therefore reflect each province’s economic situation and the funding available. The starting salary for lower secondary school teachers in 2012 was $37,145; for upper secondary school teachers, it was $37,294. However, this varies widely across the provinces, with teachers in the Northwest Territories being paid $62,403 in their first year. These salaries compare favorably with the average OECD starting salary for a lower secondary school teacher, which is $30,735.

With 15 years’ experience, the average Canadian salary for lower secondary teachers is $58,495, as compared to the OECD average of $40,570. The top of the pay scale ranges from just over $50,000 to about $90,000, depending on the province.  Although there is a slightly smaller difference between bottom of scale and top of scale salaries in Canada than in other OECD countries, Canadian teachers reach the top of the pay scale much more quickly than in most countries, typically only needing about 12-15 years of experience to earn the maximum salary.

In Ontario, the focus is not only on recruiting strong teachers but on retaining them. In 2004, the Ministry of Education instituted the “Building Futures” program to ease the transition from teacher education to teaching through workshops available to teacher candidates in their final year of study at public teacher education institutions. The workshops are organized around topics including aboriginal education; assessment, evaluation and reporting; special education; teachers engaging and communicating with parents; and learning mathematics for teaching. Another new program called “Survive and Thrive” is an online community for teachers at all levels – including teacher candidates – to share information and experience, as well as to establish mentorship relationships with one another.

Initial Education and Training

Teacher training programs are housed in Canadian universities, although separate standards for teacher qualification exist across the provinces. There are only about 50 teacher education programs in Canada, so it is easy for provincial governments to regulate quality. Typically students must complete a bachelor’s of education degree or a bachelor’s degree with an additional education certification in order to teach at any level, and several provinces require further qualifications in teaching subjects for secondary school teachers. Following initial education, the majority of provinces require another form of assessment, either through an examination or a certification process. The requirements for induction periods also vary across the provinces, although most do have at least an informal orientation period.

Career Ladders

Canadian teachers’ careers follow trajectories quite similar to those in the majority of top-performing countries. Successful teachers may be promoted to department head and can take part in professional development and training to take on leadership roles in the school and the school system later in their careers. In Ontario, for example, in order to become a principal, a teacher must have at least five years of teaching experience, certification in three of four age divisions (these are classified as primary, junior, intermediate and senior), two Specialist qualifications or a master’s degree and have completed the Principal’s Qualification Program.

Professional Development

All Canadian provincial Ministries of Education support and require ongoing teacher training efforts though, like nearly everything else in the Canadian education system, this is decentralized and subject to different requirements depending on location. In Ontario, the Working Table on Teacher Development was established in 2005. Since its inception, the Working Table has instituted a number of new programs to provide quality and consistency in teacher professional development. These include the New Teacher Induction Program, which requires new teachers to undergo additional training in their first year of teaching, as well as to satisfactorily meet certain standards during that year. The group also developed a Performance Appraisal Program for experienced teachers. Professional development programs are extensive and varied; they range from programs intended to develop content knowledge to those centered on important issues such as early literacy or bullying prevention.


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