Teacher Pension Benefits On the Chopping Block

It is clear that many teachers will not be receiving pension benefits that they long expected.

The Ontario Teachers Pension Fund has a $9.6 billion dollar shortfall.

The shortfall is largely due to record low interest rates. It is difficult for the OTP to generate 7% returns when interest rates are only 1%. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that the OTP has a significant shortfall at a time when the Canadian economy has been relatively strong. The last decade of Canadian economic growth and stock market gains of the TSX have been inadequate to counter balance the weak U.S. economy.

“We are saying benefits have to be cut,” Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said in an interview on Tuesday after the new shortfall was announced. “We are not agreeing to contribution increases.”

The good news for new teachers is that their contribution requirements will not increase as fast as in previous years. The bad news is that the Ontario government is balking at pension support.

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan CEO Jim Leech emphasized to reporters in a press conference on Tuesday morning that the plan is still 94 per cent funded.

“This is not a crisis,” he said. “This is our 10th year that we have faced a preliminary deficit.”

Of course other major pension funds including CALPERS in California are facing similar pension shortfalls. In addition, many corporate pension funds are wildly underfunded.

Mr. Leech said he thinks both the government and the teachers’ federation would like to deal with demographic challenges to prevent shortfalls in future years. The plan has been paying out more in benefits than it has received in contributions since the end of the 1990s. Teachers work on average 26 years and collect a pension for 32 years.

The rules of the plan currently allow the sponsors to increase contributions to 15 per cent of salaries (contributions are already scheduled to rise to 13.1 per cent), with those contributions matched by government, or to decrease some of the guaranteed inflation protection.

But doing both of those things “would not quite cure this deficit,” Mr. Leech said.

Leech is quite right in that all the tinkering does not actually cure the shortfall. Unless interest rates rise to normalized levels of 6-7%, all pension funds and insurance companies will struggle with defined benefits.

What are the Best Teaching Resources For New Educators

If you were starting out in the teaching profession what would be the top 3 books or teaching resources that you would want on your bookshelf?

What books do you recommend to young teachers that are just starting out in their career?

We recently conducted some research from the top educators in the U.S. and Canada about the teaching materials that have best prepared new graduates and teachers for their first five years of teaching.

Here are the results:

The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-To-Use Strategies, Tools & Activities for Meeting the Challenges of Each School Day

The overwhelming favorite was the The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide.

This bestselling teaching book is composed of two parts. Firstly, there are dozens of checklists for topics such as improving professionalism and dress. The latter part of the book basically outlines what new teachers should expect in their first few years of employment along with tips on lesson plan preparation.

The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher

This book has sold an astounding 3.3 million copies. It is on the bookshelf of teachers in over 100 countries.

The First Days of School is similar to the Survival Guide although the format and style are completely different.

Most teachers use The First Days of School to create a script for starting a class. The author is big on procedures to retain control of any classroom including how to increase the respect from your students.

The Creative Teacher: An Encyclopedia of Ideas to Energize Your Curriculum (McGraw-Hill Teacher Resources)

The last book that was recommended for new educators was The Creative Teacher.

This resource is largely focused on activities for K-6 although some teachers find it useful for older students as well. This teaching resource has new spins on how to create assignments that are creative and fresh. The ideas are mainly centered on book reports, math, science, and writing assignments.

An example of an activity found in The Creative Teacher would be interviewing a character in a book rather than writing a traditional book report.

We are curious to hear what our 20,000 readers find are the most helpful resources for new educators.

We will post your recommendations on our website.

Time to Start Using the Online Video?

Is it time to use Khan academy in your classroom?

For those of you unfamiliar with this non-profit organization, here is a recent talk that Salman Khan gave at TED.

The organization has over 3000 videos on a broad range of subjects – everything from calculus to biology. The non-profit is largely backed by the Bill Gates foundation.

In this day and age, every student is used to using Youtube for entertainment but also for learning. When students want to learn a video game trick or how to shoot a hockey puck they first reach for Youtube tutorials. However, when it comes to learning substantive material like math, the thinking was that the classroom is more effective.

Maybe it’s time to start testing online video instruction and other online teaching tools to see whether your students are learning more effectively at their own pace in a non-classroom setting.

Education is in the “Dark Ages”

According to a senior executive at Apple Computer, education is in the Dark Ages.

“In general, education is in the dark ages,” he said, adding that education has challenges that are “pretty profound.”

“It’s hard not to see that the textbook is not always the ideal learning tool,” Mr. Schiller said.

Apple announced digital textbooks that will be provided by Pearson PLC , McGraw-Hill and Houghton Muffin Harcourt.

Textbooks for high school students were added to the iBookstore Thursday (for U.S. residents only thus far), they will be priced at $14.99 or less, Mr. Schiller said. The store features textbooks on algebra, biology, chemistry, geometry, and physics from McGraw-Hill and Pearson. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are “coming soon” according to a notice on iTunes.

Of course, the $15 price tag is a lot cheaper than traditional textbooks. However, how many school boards can afford $500 I-Pads? The other difference is that university students sell their textbooks when the school year is finished. Other students are able to buy used textbooks at 50% of the cost. In other words, under the old model, students can recoup some of their expense. In the Apple model, this will not be the case.

The smartest thing for school boards and universities would be to support open source software and open source tablets. The price of tablets is plummeting (Kindle for under $200) meaning that it is reasonable to believe that tablets with color screens will be priced under $100.

However, if school boards get locked into contracts with companies like Apple, the cost will be several times what it should be. If school boards are smart, they’ll opt for open standards that are freely available for all to use and compatible with any operating systems/devices instead of being locked into a single vendor.

How To Land a Teaching Job

This is a guest post by Candace Davies, Global Career Management Professional, Creator of ‘A+ Resumes for Teachers’ & Author of 101 A+ Teaching Job Search Tips
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If you have just finished college and have received your teaching degree, or are currently a professional not in the teaching field and you want to transition into teaching then read on.

The process of finding employment in the teaching field can be an overwhelming task, if you are unprepared. Quite often, more experienced teachers are automatically invited to continue teaching at the beginning of each school year, leaving those new to the field out of luck. Another reason for job seeker frustration is that available teaching positions may be limited and competitive.

A huge chunk of the process that will help greatly is to know where to look. There are ways you can make this process a lot less painful by following a few simple guidelines, and before you know it you will be on your way to a new teaching career!

If you are a new graduate, visit your local school system’s HR department or recruiting department and inquire about any possible open positions. If there are currently no available positions, ask if you can leave your resume in case something opens up. Most teacher interviews take place several months before the actual hiring for the upcoming school year.

Beginning as a substitute teacher will help you start your career, and this may very easily lead to a full-time teaching position. While attending as a substitute, it is important to network with your co-workers and administrators and mingle with the students. If you create an excellent bond with the students and co-workers, your chances of getting hired as a full-time teacher will greatly increase. Develop a relationship with the administrators at the school and demonstrate that you are passionate and enthusiastic about having a classroom of your own. If you do an excellent job while substituting, you will have more of a chance of getting an interview if you are known by the administration.

Networking is crucial. Let everyone in your social circle – your family, friends, colleagues, etc. – know that you are looking for a full-time teaching position. You never know what can happen in casual conversation. Usually it is easier to get an interview when you are vouched for by word of mouth, especially if you are new to the field.

Many overlooked alternative teaching positions include, tutoring, coaching, training, mentoring, or teaching degree programs. Do not close yourself off to just teaching in a traditional school environment. Usually, if you have just started in the teaching profession, a great way to get acquainted with the field is in ‘training’ positions.

Search for job posting on the internet. If you enter ‘teacher jobs’ or ‘teaching jobs’ or ‘education jobs’ on any job website’s search engine, you will find a huge list of teaching positions. The drawback to this is that hundreds of other interested teachers are looking at the same available positions. Narrowing your search online by searching specific areas of teaching, for instance ‘math teacher’, will narrow your search to that specific job title and make things a little less overwhelming.

Remember, entering any new field can feel like it is overwhelming and daunting, but persistence and hard work will guarantee your success. Make sure you start with a visually appealing, keyword rich, accomplishment-based teacher resume and cover letter that showcase what you can bring to the school district.

If you found this article helpful, then check out Candace Davies’ 101 A+ Teaching Job Search Tips

Lesson Plan To Mark Death of Bin Laden

In the wake of the death of Osama Bin Laden, twitter was lighting up with teacher questions about how this historical event should be taught in classrooms.

Here are some suggestions that we’ve gathered from some of the more popular tweets.

Some Questions To Ask Students in Lesson Plan

In order to facilitate a student discussion here are some questions that you can ask:

  1. What is your reaction to the death of Bin Laden?
  2. Is it okay for us to celebrate Bin Laden’s death?
  3. Have the students view and compile newspaper headlines from different parts of the world. How would you describe the reactions of people around the world? Are the reactions different in some countries?
  4. Do you think that images of his death should be released to the public?
  5. Will his death put an end to some of the conspiracies floating around the Internet about 9/11?

The next part of your lesson plan can include some of the biographical details of Osama’s rise to power.

Timeline For Lesson Plan

You can use a timeline teaching tool and have students create an interactive presentation about his life by gathering video, text and images from across the Internet.

The NYT created a sample timeline of his life that can be used as a reference.

Students should focus their own timeline on different stages of his life and organize the timeline according to a theme.

For example, one timeline might have to do with his involvement in the resistance movement against the Soviets while another timeline might focus on post 9/11 events.

The timeline can be worked on and presented as group projects.

Will Venture Capitalists Disrupt Public Education?

Peter Thiel, one of the founding investors in Facebook caused a stir when he proclaimed that higher education was a bubble.

Thiel’s point was that the costs of higher education have grown at a pace far faster than inflation.

“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

Other technologists feel that the cost per course should be only $20. As the education industry open source software and collaborative technology, the costs of education should fall dramatically as students would no longer need to occupy prime real estate.

Could this trend have a trickle down effect to public high schools?

Afterall, the economic picture of most states and provinces is bleak and cutbacks are needed. If a school like MIT starts a trend with smaller, more collaborative classrooms, it would only make sense that the public education sector would follow suit.

In addition, the application of more technology would also increase teacher unemployment that is already at record levels.

Thiel’s argument is largely based around the fact that student loans have reached epic proportions.

“Student loan debt outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year and is likely to top a trillion dollars this year as more students go to college and a growing share borrow money to do so.”

However, on a public school level, the same situation is unfolding. Namely, governments are taking on more and more debt in order to educate the populace.

Is the education industry about to be disrupted like travel agents in the 90’s?