Expert Contributors

  • Dr. Cait Etherington

    Dr. Etherington has taught at the K-12 and postsecondary levels in the United States and Canada. She has also taught and mentored pre-service teachers in both countries. Cait is the senior education consultant for ToBecomeATeacher.org.

An Introduction to Teaching in Canada

Post-election, many Americans, including many teachers, have been wondering whether or not they can simply move north of the border. Canada, the United States’ expansive but sparsely populated northern neighbor, is a socialist state best known for its public healthcare, public education system and vast wilderness. At the moment, Canada also happens to be led by a young and open-minded leader whose own campaign was based on an optimistic call for “sunny ways.” While it is not always sunny in Canada, it is a great place to be a teacher. A 2015 survey reported that Canada’s teachers are among the world’s top paid educators (their wages fall just under those reported by teachers in Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands). While packing up the minivan and escaping north may sound appealing, bear in mind that moving to a new country is never easy, and this holds true in the case of Canada.

Despite the fact that Canada and the United States share many things in common, Canada is a separate nation with strict rules about immigration, foreign hiring and teacher certification. This guide outlines the steps involved in finding work in Canada and offers detailed guidelines on the requirements to become a licensed teacher in all of Canada’s ten provinces and 3 territories. This guide also provides an overview of where and how to look for college- and university-level teaching positions.

Teaching at the K-12 Level

The Structure of the K-12 Canadian Education System

Canada is home to 10 provinces and 3 northern territories and each of these regions has its own public education system(s) and teacher licensure standards. In most Canadian provinces, students start school in either pre-kindergarten or kindergarten and graduate in grade 12. As in the United States, middle school or “junior high,” runs from 6th to 8th grade. However, in the French-speaking province of Quebec, the system is somewhat different. Students complete elementary school in grade 6; attend high school from 7th to 11th grade; and then complete two years of study at a CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel) prior to attending university. With the exception of CEGEP teachers, who require a graduate degree but not necessarily a degree in education and teacher licensure, all K-12 teachers in Canada must hold a teaching license.

Types of K-12 Education Systems in Canada

Notably, in some but not all provinces (e.g., Ontario), there are two publicly funded education systems: a secular system, commonly known as the “public system,” and a Catholic system, commonly known as the “separate system.” Since Canada is a bilingual nation, all provinces also have both English and French language school boards. Depending on the region, however, the size of these school boards will vary. Whether one is seeking work in a “public” or “separate” school or in the English or French system, one must obtain a teaching license for the province or territory. The only exception regards private schools, which often hire educators without a degree in education or a provincial teaching license. Don’t count on finding work in the private system, however, since there are far fewer private schools in Canada than in the United States. This is largely due to the fact that a higher percentage of people across class locations choose to send their children to public schools.

Canada’s Approach to K-12 Teacher Licensure

In general, Canadians take teacher licensure very seriously. While they do not rely on standardized entrance exams (e.g., the Praxis), all provinces and territories have strict rules about who is permitted to work in their publicly funded schools. Like the United States, teacher licensure varies from province to province, and in all jurisdictions, one must hold a degree in education from a four-year university and meet the specific requirements for the level and subject(s) they wish to teach. Unlike the United States, where many states have programs designed to fast track teachers into the classroom (e.g., programs that permit teachers to work full-time while obtaining the courses needed to complete an education degree leading to licensure), in Canada, such programs are rare. If you don’t already hold an appropriate degree and teacher licensure, you will likely be unable to step foot in a classroom.

The good news is that with a long history of people moving back and forth across the border, all thirteen of Canada’s provinces and territories have clear guidelines on how certified U.S. teachers can become licensed teachers in their jurisdictions.

K-12 Certification by Province and Territory

Below you’ll find detailed information about how each Canadian province and territory approaches teacher licensure and specifically, the licensure of teachers who already hold a U.S. teaching license.

Newfoundland

Newfoundland is an island located in the North Atlantic region of Canada. The province is best known for its fishing villages, icebergs and rich tradition of humor and music. Newfoundland also oversees education in the nearby region of Labrador, which is a vast territory reaching up into the Arctic. To apply for a teaching certificate in Newfoundland, visit the province’s Teacher Certification office. You’ll need to provide a completed application form and a photocopy of your permanent resident card or work permit in order to apply for a Newfoundland teaching license. Notably, while the province is open to hiring teachers from outside the country, it does state “Applicants who are not Canadian citizens must submit proof of a valid work permit for Canada and a valid Social Insurance Number.” This means that you must become a resident prior to going on the job market (employers will not apply for a work visa on your behalf).

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.) is Canada’s smallest province. It’s best known for its red sand beaches, potatoes, and as the home of the fictional character, Anne of Green Gables (a feisty 19th-century heroine). If you’re interested in moving to PEI as a teacher, you’ll be committing to live and work in a largely rural province.  Details on how to apply for a teacher’s license in PEI are outlined on the provincial government’s website. While the province is open to hiring people born outside of Canada, bear in mind that like all Canadian provinces, in PEI, the provincial government clearly states that “proof of eligibility to work in Canada such as a copy of your Social Insurance Number [the U.S. equivalent to a Social Security Number] card” is required.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is a gorgeous Maritime province located just north of Maine. It’s home to one small city, Halifax, and to many smaller towns and rural communities. On the province’s teacher licensure page, it is clearly stated that foreign-trained teachers are welcome to apply. However, anyone hoping to pursue this option must meet all the criteria to apply for Initial Teacher Certification in Nova Scotia. Furthermore, “Internationally educated teachers are expected to provide similar documentation and pay the same application fees as Canadian teachers.”

New Brunswick

New Brunswick is a province located in the Maritime region of Canada. Most areas of the province of are rural and New Brunswick, located next to the French province of Quebec, is one of the most bilingual regions of Canada. Indeed, most residents speak both English and French and while many of the province’s schools operate primarily in one language (either English or French), teachers are generally expected to have a high level of proficiency in both languages. As stated on the New Brunswick Ministry of Education website, “The Minister may issue a teacher’s certificate or an interim teacher’s certificate to a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident of Canada or a person who provides evidence that the person is entitled under the laws of Canada to obtain employment in Canada as a teacher.” In other words, if you can prove that you are eligible to work in Canada (e.g., you have a work visa) and you hold a teaching license from a U.S. state, you may apply for a teaching license in New Brunswick.

Quebec

Quebec is Canada’s only primarily French-language region, but the differences don’t end with language. The education and legal systems in Quebec share more in common with those in France than with those in any other region of Canada. In addition, in terms of public schools, options for English-speaking teachers (even those with a decent working knowledge of French) are limited.

While there is a small English-language school system in the province (primarily located in the Montreal region where many local residents speak both French and English), even if you are working in the English-language system, fluency in French is expected. Also, bear in mind that few children are even eligible to attend English-language schools in Quebec. While residents of other Canadian provinces can choose between an English- and French-language school (regardless of their background), in Quebec, only the children of English-speaking Canadian-born parents who can provide proof that they were educated in English can opt to send their children to an English school. This also means that if you move to Quebec from the United States (or anywhere else in their world), your children will not be permitted to attend an English-language public school.

While Quebec is one of Canada’s most culturally interesting provinces and Montreal is a beautiful, diverse and inexpensive city in which to live and work, if you’re coming from the United States (even if you are fully fluent in French), finding work in the public system will likely be challenging. Visit McGill University’s Faculty of Education’s information page for more details on how foreign teachers can obtain teacher licensure in Quebec.

Ontario

Ontario is home to the largest English-language education system in Canada. Whether you’re looking for a job in the public or publicly funded (Catholic) system, you’ll find many job opportunities. Ontario is also home to the nation’s most powerful teachers’ union and has some of the highest paid K-12 teachers in North America. A 2015 article in the Toronto Star reported, “In Toronto, elementary teachers currently begin their careers earning $42,283 to $55,404, up to a maximum of $94,707 after 10 years.” For postings, follow these approved job links on the Ontario College of Teachers website.

Notably, every teacher working in one of Ontario’s publicly funded schools must be a certified member of the Ontario College of Teachers. As stated on their website, the College uses the following four criteria to determine whether or not someone can become a licensed Ontario teacher:

  • Applicant has completed an acceptable teacher education program (e.g., a B.Ed or MAT);
  • Applicant has completed an acceptable post-secondary degree of at least three years in length (e.g., a bachelor of arts, science or fine arts from a recognized university) or work experience if applicable;
  • Applicant has met the College’s language proficiency requirements (e.g., fluency in English, French or both languages) and;
  • Applicant has met the College’s Professional suitability requirements (e.g., criminal history check).

The best way to find out if you qualify is to collect the aforementioned evidence and apply to the Ontario College of Teachers for a free 30-minute assessment of your credentials.

Manitoba

Manitoba is located in the Canadian prairies (the province is directly north of North Dakota). It is home to one small city, Winnipeg, and to many small towns and rural farming communities. The northern part of the province is home to many First Nations communities. As stated on the province’s Ministry of Education website: “If you hold a valid work visa, you can apply for a Manitoba Provisional Professional Teaching Certificate.” For more details, visit the province’s Professional Certification for Internationally Educated Teachers information page.

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is a sparsely populated province in Canada’s prairie region. While home to two small cities (Regina and Saskatoon), most of Saskatchewan’s residents live in the province’s small towns, villages and rural areas. While some provinces offer a free assessment of foreign credentials, in Saskatchewan, foreign applicants must pay a $420 fee. Notably, the province relies on the World Education Services (WES) to assess foreign credentials, so you must be prepared to have all your transcripts sent to the WES from the institution at which you completed your degree(s). For more information on how to apply for a teaching license in Saskatchewan if you’re a foreign trained and certified teacher visit the province’s Ministry of Education website.

Alberta

Alberta is a province in Western Canada that is best known for its oil fields, gorgeous mountains and rodeo culture. Compared to most places in Canada, Alberta is considered socially and economically conservative. Simply put, most Texans would have an easier time living in Alberta than in any other Canadian province or territory. Prospects for foreign-trained teachers are outlined on the Alberta Education website. A few key things to know before heading to Alberta are outlined below.

First, in order to teach in Alberta you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a minimum of sixteen years of schooling (including four years of university);
  • Hold a recognized degree that includes a pre-service teacher preparation program from an institution that has been approved by the Minister of Education;
  • Have at least 48 semester hour credits (1 and 3/5 years) in professional teacher education courses throughout your degree; and
  • Have a minimum of 10 weeks in supervised student teaching at the elementary or secondary school level.

Additional qualifications for elementary teachers include 3 semester hour credits in Canadian Studies, 3 semester hour credits in mathematics, 3 semester hour credits in science, and 6 semester hour credits in English/French literature and composition. Additional qualifications for secondary teachers include a minimum of 24 semester hour credits in one’s teachable subject area, and 6 semester hour credits in English/French literature and composition.

In Alberta, there’s a strong feeling that not all degrees are equal. The province’s licensure program states denominational or doctrinal courses, self-directed teacher preparation programs, distance delivered teacher preparation programs, alternative certification programs (e.g., Teach for America or American Board) and school-based or employment-based teacher training programs may not be accepted. In other words, if you’re coming from the United States and completed an alternative certification program, don’t assume it will be accepted in Alberta.

British Columbia

British Columbia (B.C.) is a stunning province known for its warm climate, many miles of ocean coastline, and mountains. It is also home to Vancouver and Victoria–the only Canadian cities where one can reasonably expect to see little or no snow year round and even expect to encounter the first spring flowers by February. However, if you’re a U.S. teacher looking to live in Canada’s best climate, there are a few things you should know in advance.

The province issues teaching licenses for public school teachers, as well as independent school teachers. The province also issues special licenses to teachers of First Nations languages. If you are a U.S. certified teacher, you’ll be expected to meet all the same criteria as any B.C. trained and educated teacher (e.g., to hold a bachelor’s degree and an education degree, demonstrate proficiency in English or English and French, and demonstrate “fitness to teach”). For details, visit the British Columbia Ministry of Education’s Eligibility Requirements for International Graduates website.

The Northern Territories: Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories & Nunavut

Canada is home to three northern territories. These Arctic territories are where many of Canada’s Northern Cree and Inuit people live. Teaching opportunities in the far north are limited and in many cases, fluency in an indigenous language is required or highly desired. For more information on teacher licensure in Canada’s northern territories, visit the following resources:

In addition to traditional routes to licensure, recently, a Teach for Canada program (modeled on the Teach for America program) was launched to help bring teachers into understaffed Northern schools. In this case, qualified candidates are able to enter the classroom with a bachelor’s degree and three-week preparation program; additional courses are completed while the candidates work full-time in a school. However, the program has limited spaces and bear in mind that if accepted, one should be prepared to work in an isolated community (many placements are in First Nations communities that are only accessible by plane and may be largely inaccessible at certain times of the year).

Teaching at the College and University Levels

The Structure of the Canadian College and University System

In Canada, a college refers to an institution focused on technical training. While some Canadian colleges do offer four-year degrees, the college designation suggests that the institution is more concerned with training than scholarship. Indeed, in Canada, even institutions that resemble U.S. liberal arts colleges are categorized as universities (e.g., Trent University, Acadia University and Mount Allison University function as liberal arts colleges and share much in common with institutions like Bard College but are described as “primarily undergraduate universities”). By contrast, “comprehensive universities” (e.g., Simon Fraser University) are somewhat larger institutions with a wide range of graduate programs and “research universities” (e.g., the University of Toronto or University of Montreal) are home to undergraduate and graduate schools, as well as schools of medicine, law and engineering.  If you want to learn more about Canada’s universities and their reputations, the best place to start is with MacLeans Magazine’s annual university ranking.

Job Prospects for Postsecondary Educators in Canada

Compared to the K-12 sector, there are far fewer jobs available at the college and university level. In early November 2016, just under 500 positions were posted on the University Affairs website, which is the nation’s primary source of higher education job postings. Indeed, every year, thousands of Canadian scholars and researchers move to the United States and elsewhere for work-related reasons. In Canada, this is known as the “brain drain.” However, this doesn’t mean that U.S. postsecondary educators are never hired in Canada. Indeed, at some of Canada’s most prestigious universities (e.g., the University of Toronto, McGill University and in the University of Montreal), a high percentage of faculty come from the United States or from other countries, including France.

Restrictions on the Hiring of Foreign Scholars

There is one important caveat that U.S. scholars should keep in mind before they go on the Canadian academic job market. Although Canadian colleges and universities hire hundreds of U.S. citizens every year (and they have always done so), in order to finalize a hire, search committees must provide evidence that a foreign hire is necessary.

From 1981 to 2001, academic jobs had to be advertised in Canada before they could be advertised in the United States or elsewhere. In 2001, Employment and Skills Development Canada (ESDC) revised its policies and procedures regarding recruitment of foreign academics. Today,  a “Canadians first” policy remains in place but universities can recruit abroad simultaneously.  Nevertheless, Canadian search committees must still justify all foreign hires. The University of Toronto, for example, offers the following guidelines to faculty serving on hiring committees: “If a non-Canadian is being recommended for the position, reasons should be given why each of the top three Canadians was not selected. Please note that, if a non-Canadian candidate accepts the offer, Service Canada regulations require you to fill out a Foreign Academic Recruitment Summary form, which asks for the reason the top three Canadians were not chosen for the position, regardless of whether or not they were shortlisted.”

What does this mean for U.S. job applicants? While it certainly does not mean Canadian jobs are unavailable, it does mean that they must be exceptional candidates. A degree from a prestigious institution and a strong publishing or research track record are required. In addition, since Canadian scholars have access to many funding opportunities (e.g., SSHRC or NSERC grants), hiring committees are often especially eager to find candidates with exceptional funding histories and/or evidence that they are the type of scholar who will be able to apply for and obtain large research awards soon after being hired.  These faculty awards are used to hire graduate students who often rely heavily on research positions to support their graduate studies. As publicly funded institutions, these awards also help funnel additional government money into the institution.

Conclusion

While some educators (namely, outstanding researchers seeking university-level appointments) fall into a special category and can expect to have their visa sponsored by their employer, this is not the case for most K-12 school teachers. Indeed, if you’re a K-12 school educator you’ll need to first acquire a visa to live and work in Canada and then go on the job market. While there are multiple routes one can take to acquire permanent resident status in Canada, as in the United States, some routes are faster (e.g., marrying a Canadian citizen). Of course, don’t assume that if you marry a Canadian citizen that you will automatically be granted permanent resident status. Canadian immigration officials carry out extensive research on all applicants and have been known to deport individuals who attempt to apply under false pretenses. For details, visit Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration website.

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