Specialized religious teaching program now offered

  • August 6, 2008

TORONTO - The first concurrent program to prepare religion teachers for Ontario Catholic high schools will be launched this fall.

The program is in response to the lack of qualified high school religion teachers currently working in Catholic schools.

“The Catholic school board in the Toronto area expressed a clear need that in the high school system, there are not enough qualified religious teachers,” said Michael O’Connor, programs administrator at the University of St. Michael’s College.

Ralph Peter, program co-ordinator of religion and family life at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said the Catholic education community in Ontario had been requesting such a program for years. There are some teachers now with masters of theology or religious education degrees, Peter said, but there is “a lack of religion teachers with deeper qualifications,” he said.

Peter said he was unable to provide a specific number of exactly how many specialized religion teachers in Catholic high schools are currently needed. But, he added, “There is always a need.” 

About two dozen students will be part of the inaugural five-year program this September.

The University of St. Michael’s College is partnering with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Students in the program will pursue a major in Christianity and Culture at St. Michael’s while completing their teaching certification at OISE. They will also take arts or science courses, depending upon their interests, earning a bachelor of arts or science degree, and a bachelor of education degree. Students apply to the program in their second year of studies.

York University offers a concurrent teacher training program which has produced religion teachers for the Ontario Catholic school system. However, it doesn’t specialize in training teachers for the Catholic system.

In this new University of Toronto program, students will receive practical training in a Catholic high school during their third year of study.

This combination of practical work, placements and religion courses were what drew 18-year-old student Andrew Quittenton, one of about 50 students who applied to the program.

Quittenton said the Catholic component was an important factor in his decision to apply for the program.

“I’ve been a Catholic my whole life. Church and God are a big part of my life. I’d like to stick with it, practise it and teach it to others,” he said.

Students will also be taught the history and values of the Catholic educational system, O’Connor said.

“It’s a program that has been long overdue” and will be another resource for Catholic high school religion teachers “who are already doing an excellent job,” said Brian Evoy, president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education. He added that some parents “feel there is a watering down of religion in schools and that other subjects take precedence.”

Evoy said a similar program for elementary school teachers would also be welcome.

James Ryan, first vice president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said the program has a “better structure” due to “a lack of unity” between Catholic religion programs and faculties of education programs already in place.

Under the current system, students can study at concurrent teacher training programs and then specialize in religion or take religion courses after being hired at a Catholic school board.

Ryan said it seems that religion teachers in this new program would get about the same training as teachers who are currently in the system.

“As far as our religion teachers in our high schools and elementary schools, they are very well trained,” he added.

There are more than 1,000 religion teachers in Catholic schools, according to the teachers’ association.

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