By: Asfia Yasir in Toronto, ON
Immigration is reshaping Ontario's classrooms, changing the demographics of both students and teachers. The latest statistics indicate that one in 10 new teachers hired in Ontario is internationally-trained (about 1,000 of 11,000 new teachers in 2016). The transition is never easy for these newcomer teachers as they get used to cultural norms very different from their home nations and learn to deal with a room full of students who may not always look up to the person standing in front of the classroom.
Hycinth Gomez, an Indian immigrant working at a private Montessori school, can attest to some of these “unique circumstances”. Starting out as a volunteer before moving her way up to her current teaching role, she still found herself faced with difficulties that others did not face – at least not to the same extent.
“I started as a supply teacher in an elementary school and sometimes I had to bear more than the class teacher. I used to get badgered so much because children knew I was not there permanently,” says Hycinth Gomez. Having taught in Ontario for almost eight years now, she has had the opportunity to work with a number of age groups through additional UCMAS (Universal Concepts of Mental Arithmetic Systems) courses she also helps administer.
Immigrants coming from developing countries may also bring their own set of values and norms, serving perhaps as important role models for students who may not always see visible minorities in positions of authority and instruction. The student-teacher dynamic is one that new instructors navigate delicately as they get used to Canadian norms.
“When I was growing up, my teacher was like an empowering tower on me and I was always shushed whenever I asked more than one question. Whereas in Canada, asking questions and handling them positively is the norm,” Gomez points out.
This dynamic is not unique to elementary or high school classrooms. A female immigrant scientist* who teaches at the University of Toronto, vents her own frustration. “Students find my accent funny. They come to me for help all the time, during and after the class. But my accent gives me a hard time.” She is convinced that part of the problem is her gender, pointing out that no male faculty member seems to face the same hardship.
Female teachers can be perceived as exercising less authority in a classroom and there is some evidence to suggest this is a hard-wired bias. Recent studies based on student evaluations reveal that male teachers receive higher scores in a number of areas, including aspects that were readily comparable. For example, when reviewing categories such as “promptness” – which refers to how quickly an assignment was returned – male instructors scored 16 per cent higher than their female peers.
Dr. John Shields, a professor in the department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University and an authority on the subject of immigrant settlement and integration, also attributes this to a hard-wired bias. “Immigrant teachers lack the relevant experience. Specifically, female immigrant teachers have difficulty in commanding authority in a classroom due to gender bias. As a result, students put extra demands, for example [demanding] retests, more time, even if the deadline is met, which burdens their work.”
Shields further highlights the societal pressures that extends to women students at the university level, saying, “Although the number of female students is a lot more than male students, it is still quite demanding for them considering the fact that the responsibility of childcare or an elderly family member is more upon women than men.”
Mehreen Faisal, who recently graduated from Ryerson University with distinction, couldn't agree more. She states, “As a mother I have more responsibility of the house and kids and studying with that status gives me extra pressure to cope up with my family life and studies at the same time." A Vanier Institute of the Family info-graphic titled "Women, Caregiving and Work in Canada", confirms that Faisal is not alone. Women are more likely than men to report having spent 20 hours or more per week providing care, separate from what they are employed to do.
A third issue for newcomer high school teachers like Linda Mourot, who started teaching later in life, is the perception that she is perhaps taking a job away from a younger person. “People think that if I am going to college at the age of 50, its very shameful as there are so many young people out there looking for jobs and here I am at this age who is going to take a job needed by young people.”
However, in Mourot's case, her experience has only made her more bold and confident. As a teacher of French in an officially bilingual nation, she is amazed that some students seem averse to learning a new language. Many parents do not realize the importance of learning French. “They have never travelled outside of Canada, never even to French-speaking Canada, so they see no use of French. You never know young people today may find a French speaking girlfriend tomorrow, but they find it funny.”
With their wider spectrum of experiences, immigrant teachers offer a variety of new perspectives that can make all the difference in helping to widen a child's horizons. However, these teachers face real challenges. After all, it is surely not an accident that a settlement organization like Skills for Changes in Toronto owes it origins in 1982 to "five English as a Second Language teachers [who] identified a need and shared a vision for integrated skills and language training."
*identity has been kept confidential to protect individual
by Shenaz Kermalli (@mskermalli) in Richmond Hill, Ontario
A Richmond Hill high school teacher has been accused of posting Islamophobic tweets against his own students, the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) has confirmed.
The English teacher at Richmond Green Secondary School is currently being investigated by the school administration, the superintendent of the school and a representative from the YRDSB.
“This incident is an anomaly,” Licinio Miguelo, a YRDSB spokesperson told New Canadian Media. “We have a robust system here to ensure our schools all have an inclusive environment.” He cited board section number 240 of the Respectful Workplace and Learning Environment policy where the YRDSB recognizes its responsibility to support, “an environment respectful of human rights and free of discrimination and harassment.”
When asked what the repercussions would be if the accused teacher was found guilty, he said: “I don’t want to speculate on the outcome of the investigation. I can assure you we would take all of our policies into account.”
The investigators are also looking into whether the account was hacked by an impersonator, he added.
“Internet’s the Real World”
The tweets in question were compiled and e-mailed to the YRDSB and school officials at Richmond Green on Wednesday night by a team of students led by Zeinab Aidid, a student at the University of Toronto, and a student at Richmond Green.
Aidid told New Canadian Media that in one tweet sent in early June, the teacher allegedly posted (in response to Muslims praying during work hours): “Pray on your own time. Like pooping. Do it in private and wash your hands after.”
Other tweets posted in May read: ‘You Muslims are really on a roll copying each other tonight. Oh right they don’t want you thinking for yourself’ and in another: ‘Decided that I am way too racist to be a teacher.’
Aidid said she is certain the accused teacher, who posted a photograph of themself in the several unconfirmed accounts he/she allegedly tweeted from (one of which has now been deleted), is behind the hateful tweets. “I’m certain [it’s the teacher]. Why would a student delete the account when someone else favourited it?” Favouriting a tweet indicates that a tweet has been seen and saved.
She also points to how far back the offensive tweets date from. “We’ve been told that a student back in January first noticed the tweets, but chose not to say anything. More recently, students have begun taking screenshots.”
Perhaps one of the most derogatory tweets came in reference to one the teacher allegedly posted after a ninth-grade student began wearing a hijab (Islamic head covering) earlier this year: ‘I get sad when girls I teach decide to wear a hijab. I feel like a failure.’
“In the response,” Aidid added, “the girl was mentioned by name. The post reads: ‘Sara*, did you just now decide to cover your shame?’”
As a recent high school graduate from nearby Thornhill, Aidid says she feels surprised and saddened by the incident. “I’m surprised … I think people don’t realize the Internet is the real world. When you post something people will always find it … on the teacher’s part this is really reckless. It’s concerning to me that a person like that is teaching our children.”
She’s also disappointed with the way the YRDSB has approached the matter so far. “It’s plain wrong,” she says. “This school is not a safe learning environment and students can’t trust their teachers. The board needs to take these allegations more seriously.”
“I haven’t even received a response from all the e-mails I sent [to school board officials],” she adds. “I understand this stuff is handled internally, but even an acknowledgement that you received my e-mail would have been nice.”
‘Blown Out of Proportion’
Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), echoed Aidid’s sentiments in a statement on Friday.
“Anti-Muslim sentiment and speech are offensive and hurtful,” Gardee said. “If the allegations against this teacher are found true, they represent a serious breach of trust by someone in a position of authority. We welcome the decision by the York Region District School Board to launch an investigation immediately.”
He added that the NCCM has reached out to school officials at the board to offer its support in the way of diversity training.
The National Post, the only major Canadian news outlet to run the story as of Friday afternoon, received a flood of responses via Twitter in support for the accused teacher.
“I support that teacher … Religious indoctrination is sad and pathetic,” one reader tweeted.
“Beside admitting to being racist, his tweets were opinions … nothing hateful about them. This is being blown out of proportion,” another said.
New Canadian Media chose not to disclose the teacher’s name out of courtesy for the pending investigation.
*Editor’s Note: This person’s name has been changed.
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