Friday, February 2, 2007

Immigrant teachers struggle to find work

Globe and Mail
16 January 2007
Immigrant teachers struggle to find work



As Fatima Siadat fights to be recognized as a teacher in Ontario, she may face another lengthy struggle if she is certified: Securing a job.

Immigrant teachers, trained abroad but certified in Ontario, have more trouble finding full-time jobs than local graduates and many end up as supply teachers, according to an annual survey conducted by the Ontario College of Teachers -- the group that is stonewalling Ms. Siadat's bid for teaching qualification in the province.

But the former refugee who has been waiting to be certified for the past 13 years, is not losing heart.

"Of course, I will find something. Nothing discourages me," she said yesterday from her home in Ottawa.

Ms. Siadat, a teacher in Iran for 16 years, fled her homeland for Canada in 1989 after government officials harassed her, fired her and then threatened her life for discussing the right to free expression with her high-school literature students, her lawyers allege. Her application to teach in the province was denied by the Ontario College of Teachers, which insisted on seeing original government documents that she couldn't obtain because she is in exile.

Her case came to the forefront after the Superior Court of Ontario ruled last week that her application be reconsidered by the regulatory body, a move that was hailed as a victory among those fighting to change the way foreign-trained professionals have their credentials recognized.
A teachers' college spokesman declined comment again yesterday, saying it hasn't ruled out appealing the court ruling.

Still, in a profession where supply outstrips demand, it remains to be seen if Ms. Siadat's passion for teaching will help her land a full-time job. Statistics suggest a grim outlook.

The latest survey by the college, conducted last spring, found that while more than 50 per cent of Ontario graduates had regular teaching jobs by the end of their first year of work, 18 per cent of provincially certified immigrant teachers were in the work force full-time. Immigrants were more likely to find supply teaching positions.

The college declined to comment on whether the survey findings suggested discriminatory hiring practices. The Ontario Public School Boards' Association was also at a loss to explain the inconsistencies.

"The reality is that teaching is a very desirable position and there's no shortage of people applying for the jobs now," said Rick Johnson, president of the OPSBA. "We hire the best person available."

Ms. Siadat hopes that she will rank among the top candidates. She has taught at all grade levels and even worked in a daycare while challenging the college's decision.

She appealed the college's rejection of her application, but the decision was upheld in 2002 and 2004. The college refused to accept her teacher's identification card, a handwritten copy of her university course transcripts and photocopies of her degrees and her employment order from the Ministry of Education in Iran.

To teach in Ontario's publicly funded schools, a teacher must be certified by the college.

Mr. Justice John Brockenshire ruled that the college's insistence on original, government-certified documents "is prima facie discriminatory against her, in view of the evidence she has provided."

Yesterday, the Ontario Teachers' Federation described Ms. Siadat's situation as "unfortunate," saying the college should try to find another way of certifying teachers when all else fails.

"We need to look at it on a case-by-case basis, put in practice procedures that will facilitate some kind of verification and at the same time, protect the public's interest," said OTF president Hilda Watkins, declining to expand on what those procedures would entail.

Elizabeth McIsaac, director of policy for Toronto immigrant-advocacy group Maytree Foundation, said regulatory bodies, including the college, need to be more responsive to refugees or immigrants not being able to provide the proper documentation. Ms. McIsaac said that although her group has been working with various regulatory bodies, many are too rigid in their ways.

"We suggest that they should explore whatever tools they can to recognize the skills as best they can. And they need to be responsive to their applicants," Ms. McIsaac said.