Center on International Education Benchmarking

Canada: Teacher and Principal Quality

Overview | Learning Systems | Teacher and Principal Quality
Supporting Equity |  Career and Technical Education | Governance and Accountability

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. 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.

Teacher Recruitment and Compensation

Canada is consistently able to recruit high-quality students into teaching. While each province sets its own policies for entry into teacher education, teaching is generally thought of as a high status and well-paid job. Provinces have struggled with recruitment of teachers in remote parts of the country, however, and most offer bonuses and incentives to attract candidates into teaching.

Canadian teacher salaries are determined on the provincial level and therefore reflect each province’s economic situation and the funding available. The average starting salary for both lower and upper secondary school teachers in 2015 was US$39,179. However, this varies widely across the provinces, with lower secondary teachers in the Northwest Territories being paid the highest in all of Canada at CAN$59,401 (US$45,525) in their first year. These salaries compare favorably with the average OECD starting salary for a lower secondary school teacher, which is US$32,202.

With 15 years’ experience, the average Canadian salary for lower secondary teachers is US$65,621, as compared to the OECD average of US$44,623. The top of the pay scale ranges from just over US$56,000 to about US$85,000, 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.

Ontario, which recruits its teachers from among the top 30 percent of college graduates, has focused not only on recruiting strong teachers but on retaining them. In 2006, the Ministry eliminated the unpopular provincial licensing exam for teachers and instituted the New Teacher Induction Program (see below), in partnership with the teachers’ unions. The Ministry also created Survive and Thrive, which is an online community for teachers at all levels – including teacher candidates – to share information and experiences, as well as to establish on-line mentorship relationships with one another.

British Columbia has been highly focused on teacher recruitment since the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that 2002 legislation that barred teachers from negotiating class size and compensation related to special-needs students was unconstitutional. As a result of this ruling, the school system has agreed to restore language from previous contracts that called for smaller class sizes. The government has invested over US$300 million in the Classroom Enhancement Fund to hire new more than 3,000 teachers and specialty teachers in classrooms across the province for the 2017-18 school year. Part of the challenge is attracting teachers to rural communities. An additional CAN$1.6 million (US$1.23 million) was targeted to help rural districts in teacher application management, coordination of national and international recruitment, and local incentives to help cover relocation expenses, transitional housing, and professional development.

Teacher Initial Education and Training

Teacher training programs are housed in Canadian universities, although separate standards for teacher qualifications exist across the provinces. There are only about 50 teacher education programs in Canada, so it is easier for provincial governments to regulate quality than in countries with many more programs. Typically, students must complete a bachelor 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.

In 2014, Ontario took major steps to reform teacher preparation in order to address the province’s oversupply of teachers and, at the same time, increase the quality of teachers. First, the Ministry cut the number of slots in teacher education by about half. Today, about one in five applicants is currently accepted in teacher education programs, which are housed at 16 research universities in the province. Second, the Ministry extended teacher preparation from a one to a two-year program. And third, an 80 day practicum requirement was added. In Ontario, teachers who complete their teacher education program receive a Basic Qualification, which varies by general or technology education, English or French, grade band, and subjects. Teachers are required to be qualified in at least two consecutive grade bands (grades 1-3, grades 4-6, grades 7-10, and grades 11-12).

Once Ontario teachers graduate from teacher education, the province provides a year-long induction program (with an option to extend this to a second year). This program was put in place in 2010. All new teachers are given a reduced teaching load and assigned a mentor who is an experienced teacher, who also has a reduced teaching load. The new teachers also take part in professional development designed to orient and support them throughout the year. The new teachers as well as the mentors are evaluated at the end of the year.

In British Columbia, there are nine universities that offer initial training for teachers. Programs are from one to two years, and all include a practical experience. After completing a preparation program and earning a Professional Certificate, teachers are assigned a Teacher Qualification Service category which is used by school boards to set salary levels. There are seven categories.

The British Columbia Teachers Council has the responsibility of approving any new teacher education program and requires that the programs meet provincial standards. The Council is currently reviewing these standards, after a year-long process of gathering input from teaching candidates, current teachers, school leaders, parents and the public. The Ministry of Education has supported the teachers’ union to oversee the New Teachers Mentoring Project for the past five years. The project is currently on hold, as the Ministry is planning to redesign it to support the new curriculum and assessment system.

Teacher Career Ladders

While there is no formal career ladder, 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, teachers can pursue Additional Qualifications which can boost their salary. Additional Qualifications are awarded after completing short courses focused on specific content areas as well as specializations such as technology use. The curriculum for these courses is approved by the College of Ontario Teachers, the teacher-led credentialing organization.

Teacher evaluation in Ontario—the Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA) program—is structured by the Ministry but administered by principals. Teachers are rated on 16 competencies aligned to three standards of practice: 1) professional knowledge, 2) professional practice and leadership in learning communities; and 3) on-going professional learning. The emphasis of evaluation is on providing recommendations for continuous improvement, rather than on punitive accountability or career ladder advancement. The evaluations and observations are done every five years, although they increase in frequency for low-performing teachers. However, teachers complete Annual Learning Plans that set goals for growth, and principals coach them to meet their goals annually, regardless of whether they are in an evaluation year. The Ministry also gives awards annually to teachers who excel in achieving results for students and in contributing research to the field.

Teachers in British Columbia can advance Teacher Qualification Service categories by completing additional programs (which may be degrees, diplomas or integrated programs), qualifying them to move to the next categories. Salary is not related to teacher evaluation. Teacher evaluation is not required in British Columbia, and is regulated by district agreements with teachers’ unions. In general, it is required only in cases when there is a serious issue. Many principals do meet with teachers to develop professional development plans for the year.

Teacher 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, teachers receive six professional development days each school year. Two days must be spent on professional development related to topics that are aligned with Ministerial goals; they have free choice for the remaining four. Fellow teachers deliver this professional development through the Teacher Training and Leadership Program. In this program, classroom teachers are recruited and apply to engage in a collaborative project with other peers, which may be investigating their own teaching practices or engaging in another form of research in education. These teacher leaders receive support to design and facilitate professional development for other teachers based on the research they undertook. Teachers are expected to develop protocols, organize their own projects, direct research into their practices, and design professional learning for their peers. Principals are also expected to implement teacher professional learning communities. These must be developed in response to needs identified by polling teachers and assessing gaps in student knowledge. There are no province-wide requirements for how much professional learning time must be protected, but principals are evaluated on—and expected to evaluate themselves on—how responsive they are to teachers’ professional learning needs.

In British Columbia, teachers are also required to have six professional development days each year. As of 2015, the Ministry now certifies approved courses and categories of courses. The Ministry of Education provides workshops for teachers and the main teacher union, the BC Teachers Federation, also organizes professional learning opportunities. Since 2011, the province has focused its professional development on what it calls “inquiry-based” professional learning communities. These are networks of teachers that meet regularly to focus on understanding and addressing specific problems in their schools. “Coordinators of Inquiry” are teachers who are released from 10-20 percent of their teaching duties to lead these networks. The coordinators are trained for this role.

School Leader Development

Each province has its own process for recruiting and training principals. Ontario in particular has prioritized school leadership development, defining clear roles for principals in driving school improvement and student achievement. The province’s leadership strategy includes attracting the right people to the principalship and helping to develop them into instructional leaders. The Ontario Leadership Framework describes successful practices of school and system leaders based on the latest research and it provides a foundation for the province’s leadership development efforts.

In order to become a principal in Ontario, 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 (PQP). The Ontario College of Teachers, the teaching regulatory body, develops guidelines for PQP providers (universities, principals’ council, some district school boards partnered with councils) and accredits them. The PQP includes 250 hours of content organized around the Ontario Leadership Framework plus a 60 hour in-school leadership practicum requiring the aspiring principal to lead a collaborative inquiry project with support from a principal mentor. Once on the job, the Ontario Ministry of Education provides funding to support new principal mentoring for the first two years.

British Columbia just developed a new Leadership Development Framework in 2017, based, in part, on the Ontario framework. The strategy is to next develop an implementation strategy for the vision on the framework document. The new framework says that the role of school leaders is increasingly complex and that new kinds of training and support are needed. As a first step, the Ministry set aside CAN$200,000 (US$153,000) to develop new training for school leaders in the province over the 2017-18 school year.

Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2019 (salaries) and OECD (GDP per capita)