International teachers become keen students

Internationally Educated Teachers Bridging Project breaks down walls by helping teachers earn certification in Alberta.


(Edmonton) The challenges and obstacles that immigrants to Canada face in the workplace are well documented, but a team of researchers in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education are examining the flip side of that equation for the first time.

Professors Randolph Wimmer, Beth Young and their team have designed and implemented a project to examine what resources, qualities and tools contribute to professional success.

The Internationally Educated Teachers (IET) Bridging Project was created to help professional teachers educated abroad meet Alberta’s provincial requirements for teacher certification. The researchers are looking to the participants in this real-life project, to help them determine which aspects of their career and personal histories have contributed to their capacity to address challenges and obstacles. What the researchers have been learning from the project, through analysis of the experiences participants share, will be used to improve access processes at the U of A, and contribute to future government and university policy and practice.

Wimmer and Young designed the project to assist new immigrant teachers in successfully obtaining teaching positions, and to improve the faculty’s overall processes for working with internationally educated teachers. Additionally, with assistance from doctoral student Jing Xiao, they will gather information about the hidden challenges the participants face and will also document participants’ perspectives on the material, social, human and financial resources they were able to draw on while obtaining certification and seeking employment as teachers. “This research will contribute to the literature by exploring the question, ‘What facilitates success?’” said Wimmer.

Did you know?

  • Immigrants accounted for 19.9% of Alberta's working-age population in 2010.
  • Graduates of the IET project meet requirements for certification as teachers in Alberta.
  • IET graduates enhance their professional growth as teachers.
  • IET grads can make a smooth transition to teaching and related employment in Alberta schools.

Project participants are supported individually and with their cohort in a specialized seminar. They are also integrated into several of the faculty’s regular classes. The course offerings were carefully selected following consultation with the Faculty of Education’s academic departments and advisers in Undergraduate Student Services, and endorsed by Alberta Education. Participants also complete a nine-week student teaching experience in a local Edmonton school.

“One of the key underpinnings of this project is the recognition that there is a need for a well-supported experience,” said Wimmer. “I have heard some questions like, ‘Why should these students get special treatment?’; to that I simply say that we are levelling the playing field. We are hoping to ensure that the IET students have a positive, transformative experience at the university, which is a goal we have for all students.”

Young, the original project co-ordinator, designed and facilitated the Bridging and Professional Growth Seminar to provide regular opportunities for the co-ordinator and the participants to interact. The seminar is tailored to the needs and interests of the cohort and includes journal reflections and a paper, while providing a safe space for the participants to unpack their observations. These activities provide a supportive collegial atmosphere for the participants as they learn about teaching in Alberta.

Young notes that all of the internationally educated teachers in the first cohort proved to be keen, industrious students as well as experienced, dedicated teachers.

“I was so impressed by the resilience of these teachers,” she said. “Many of the participants have the equivalent of a master’s degree in their country of origin; they have substantial, in-depth content knowledge that is an incredible resource for Alberta’s students. What they will gain through the bridging project is an enrichment experience—they’ll learn how Canadian teachers are being taught and develop a sense of context.”

The initial findings from the project, obtained through formal and informal feedback from the first participants, indicate that the program is on its way to achieving its intended goals. Participants are better equipped to contribute to Alberta society and schools, and are able to provide valuable insight into institutional processes that are a bureaucratic barrier to many students’ success.

Under the guidance of current co-ordinator Brent McDonough, the bridging project has now launched its second full year, with 11 students from six countries. The results from the pilot year (2013–14) have been reviewed and the internal processes already improved.