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Love of Learning

To Teach or Not to Teach in Canada 

By MINA WONG - October 5 2022

A newcomer shares her story with Mina Wong

My name is Juleen Thapar, an educator from India’s Amritsar region. When I came to Toronto in 2019 with husband, Ranbir, we had already been teachers and school administrators for thirty years.

When we first met, Ranbir and I were just teachers-in-training. Then we married, worked, had a child, and lived near family to look after our parents. By 2014 when our son, Victor attended college in Canada, we were both secondary school principals with generous salaries and a comfortable life.

In Toronto, Victor transitioned from college to university before earning a botany degree in 2019. With part-time work at a research lab, he applied to stay here permanently. He also enticed us to become teachers in Toronto.

Visiting our son promised a wonderful holiday, but moving here to work as teachers suggested an uncharted journey. 

However, Victor was ecstatic when we landed at Pearson Airport one evening in June. Beaming and talking non-stop, he took us to his apartment where “life is always exciting at Yonge and Bloor!”

Ranbir and I liked Toronto right away. The streets were clean and green with buoyant energy. After a week of restaurant adventures, we bought groceries like local people, cooked our own food, did laundry, and took evening walks to Rosedale Park.

That weekend, Victor invited Nancy Kallan to join us for dinner. A very polite young lady and new high school teacher, Nancy told Ranbir and me how much she could learn from us. She also believed Toronto was always looking for good teachers, and that newcomers with formal experience might only need some courses and a practicum.

We had mixed feelings about Nancy’s kind advice. Ranbir privately asked, “What courses do we study after teaching for thirty years?”

I also felt all my hard work since becoming a teacher in 1988 would be tested again – if I wanted to teach in Canada. But I understood we had no Canadian experience to work in Toronto schools.

All night, I wrestled with ‘to teach or not to teach’ in Canada. 

I also wondered if Nancy’s Tamil family would like Ranbir and me. 

Nancy was a lovely girl born and raised in Toronto; she and Victor seemed so happy together; she obviously would make an excellent high school teacher. 

But Ranbir’s future and mine suddenly became a question.

In the end, we did apply to live in Canada. We hoped the point system would favour our professional credentials, good English, financial resources, and a genuine desire to join Victor as family in Toronto.

While Victor, Ranbir, and I waited to hear from Immigration Canada, Nancy started her teaching career in Markham, and visited us when she could.

Shortly after Christmas, Victor heard first that his application was successful. Soon, he accepted a full-time research position in biotechnology. Meanwhile, the Ontario College of Teachers informed Ranbir and me that to become certified teachers, we needed to satisfy a supervised teaching practicum at an approved school.

Ranbir grumbled about the process. “Even if I can live in Canada, I can’t teach unless I am an apprentice again?”

Ranbir’s sentiments echoed our quandaries: what schools would we approach to complete the practicum? Why did we need a practicum when we were already experienced teachers and school principals? Why did we have to prove our professionalism after three decades?

But before long, we were also accepted as permanent residents, ironically when Toronto was deep in lockdown.

Our success was also a mixed blessing: to enjoy more opportunities in Canada than India, wouldn’t we live very far from family in Amritsar? To welcome exciting professions in education here, wouldn’t we require extensive new training? To accept Canadian values of lifelong learning, wouldn’t we need to look for employers who supported professional development?

After much consideration of pros and cons, we decided to stay in Canada. But it meant living and working in a new environment. It also meant acknowledging our ignorance and asking for help from more experienced people.

Three years later, we still live near Yonge and Bloor, but our lives have changed dramatically. 

In 2020, the pandemic locked down even our most tentative career plans. We became preoccupied with staying healthy. Each day, we encouraged Victor and Nancy whose young careers had turned upside down. Almost all the time, we tried to keep family in India safe from COVID.

In 2021, instead of joining the Ontario College of Teachers, we looked for other options. Ranbir developed an interest in project management for small organizations, and I looked at language learning with fresh eyes. Happily, we found good training for career shifts in Canada’s job market.

2022 has been busy with new prospects. Soon finishing a project management certificate, Ranbir volunteers for Indo-Canadian groups where he will help to launch educational initiatives.

I am hoping to tutor adult learners of English. Completing short certificates in Teaching English as a Second Language, I am ready for all the training and job opportunities available to me. 

This is our newcomer story, of Ranbir and me moving to Canada and starting over without much of a map. But we are learning from Nancy and Victor’s resilience, and grateful for the friendship of Nancy’s parents who are seasoned accountants. By setting new career goals, we actively network with different professionals, and feel very motivated to live and work successfully in Canada.

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