Education offers full-time Master’s program to help with teacher shortage

Interested in teaching high school, but haven’t taken the education courses needed for certification in Quebec? McGill is about to launch a program that may be right for you.
Lana Kukrika Ignjatovic. / Photo: Adam Scotti

By Chris Chipello

Interested in teaching high school, but haven’t taken the education courses needed for certification in Quebec?

McGill is about to launch a program that may be right for you.

Starting this summer, university graduates with degrees in a range of subjects – from math and science to English and history – will be able to earn in 15 months a Master’s degree leading to certification at the secondary level from the Quebec Education Ministry.

Those wanting to get in on the ground floor will need to act fast: Feb. 15 is the deadline for applying to the Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning (MATL) program.

McGill in December became the first university in Quebec approved to offer a full-time Master’s-level program for people interested in getting into the teaching field. The program compresses the amount of time required to qualify for certification – and opens the door to a broader range of applicants.

Until now, graduate level teacher education programs, including the one at McGill that began last summer, were open only to those working as teachers without certification – a status known as being “en tolérance.” This predicament is an issue of concern to educators across North America, where there’s a widespread shortage of qualified science teachers, in particular, said Gale Seiler, Associate Professor, Science Education.

For over a decade in Quebec, anyone aiming to become a teacher after earning a Bachelor’s in Science or Arts had to add a Bachelor’s of Education degree to their c.v.– a process that took around two and a half years. But the Education Ministry in July changed that policy, making it possible to offer such graduate programs to students without prior teaching experience – on the condition that universities resubmit the programs for approval.

McGill quickly swung into action. “We’re proud to be the first university in Quebec approved to offer this particular program,” said Elizabeth Wood, Associate Dean, Academic Programs in the Faculty of Education. “It responds to a significant need. Our Dean, Hélène Perrault, and the central Administration have been tremendously supportive.” With many teachers approaching retirement age, Quebec is expected to need thousands of new teachers in the English and French sectors over the next several years.

The MATL represents one targeted way to help meet the demand – and bring teachers with relevant life experience into the system. The first cohort of 27 part-time McGill MATL students, who began their studies last summer, illustrates the point.

Student Lana Kukrika Ignjatovic is a mechanical engineer who began her studies in Sarajevo and completed them in Moscow before moving to Canada with her husband. While in Russia, she worked in an international daycare centre. And in Montreal, with children of her own, she again worked in daycare. She eventually went back to work as an engineer, but realized she really wanted to teach, found a job with a program for autistic children, and eventually joined the McGill part-time MATL program last year.

At Beurling Academy in Verdun, where she did an MATL teaching internship, Ignjatovic’s life experience helped her stand out. “She was great,” said David Abracen, the school’s principal. “The maturity level – that’s a big thing,” added Meryl Midler, Ignjatovic’s mentor teacher at the school.

“She’s already been out in the workforce. Someone in this program, making a career change – her level of commitment is greater” than that of many younger student-teachers, said Midler, a McGill alumna now in her 35th year of teaching.

For Ignjatovic, the program already has paid dividends. In January, she was hired as a full-time math teacher at Selwyn House – even as she continues toward her MATL degree.

The program is demanding, especially for those juggling full-time teaching jobs, said Fiona Benson, Director of McGill’s Office of Student Teaching. But this first cohort “has absolutely bonded; they support each other.”

Julia Lesser, another MATL student, said the program has provided valuable tools to apply in her teaching – as well as a great opportunity to pursue certification. “It’s given me the possibility of a second chance in life.”

For the coming year, the Faculty hopes to form one full-time and one part-time cohort, each with about 25 students, said Caroline Riches, Interim Director of the MA in Teaching and Learning.

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