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Teaching in an
Ontario School


Ontario's Classrooms

Ontario’s classrooms tend to be less formally structured than those in many other countries. Students in the primary grades (Kindergarten – Grade 3) usually do not sit in rows, but in groups. In the junior and intermediate grades (Grade 4 – Grade 8), there is generally a mixture, with students more likely to sit in rows as they get older. In some cases, the school or board may specify how it likes students seated, but it is generally up to teachers to decide on how they would like their classroom organized.

Student interaction with teachers is expected to be of a respectful nature, but is not overly formal. Teachers in the English language schools are almost always referred to by their last name. It is common practice in Canada for female teachers to be addressed as Ms, although some teachers still prefer to be called Mrs or Miss. Although students don’t usually address teachers by their first names, this does occur in the early grades in some French-language (francophone) schools.

To get a better sense of how classrooms in Ontario are organized, you can contact a school in your neighbourhood and arrange a visit.

Class Size
The Ministry of Education sets limits on the average class size in elementary and secondary schools. Boards generally try to keep class size at about 20 students per class in the primary grades. In the junior, intermediate and senior grades, class sizes range between the mid-20s and low 30s. While class size differs greatly across the province, it is not uncommon for all types of classes in city areas to have around 30 students each.

Split and Multi-Grade Classes
It is not uncommon across Ontario to find students at two different grade levels taught in the same classroom. For example, a school may have a split Grade 3/4 class, including students from both Grade 3 and Grade 4 who are taught by a single teacher in the same classroom. While the children are taught in the same classroom setting, the expectation is that they will receive curriculum instruction appropriate for their grade level. Split grades generally occur in elementary schools and are less common at the secondary school level.

In remote areas of the province, split and multi-grade classes are very common. As their name suggests, multi-grade classes hold children who are in more than two grade levels.

Generally, discipline is maintained by the classroom teacher with the support of the school’s principal or vice-principal, according to the policies set out by the school board and the Ministry of Education. Under absolutely no circumstance is a teacher permitted to administer a method of discipline to students that is not in keeping with the school or board guidelines. As a teacher, you should ask for a copy of the school board’s discipline policy.

It is important to note that the use of corporal punishment is strictly forbidden in Ontario schools. Any violation of this policy could result in suspension or dismissal.

Since 2000, discipline in the province’s publicly-funded schools has been governed by the Safe Schools Act. The Act outlines the reasons a student can and should be suspended or expelled from school.

Opening/Closing Exercises
Either the opening or closing exercise in all Ontario schools must include Canada’s national anthem, O Canada. At the principal’s discretion, schools may also choose to have students recite the Canadian Oath of Citizenship, however this is not required.

Regular attendance at school is critical to a student’s ability to fulfill course expectations. Teachers keep track of attendance and lateness, and must include that information on a student’s report card. If poor attendance affects a student’s progress in the classroom, teachers discuss the matter with the student’s parents. If attendance does not improve, the matter may be referred to an Attendance Officer at the school board.

Students are required to attend school until the age of 18, or until graduation or the completion of an alternative training program.

Extra/Co-Curricular Activities
Extra and co-curricular activities are defined as any activities that occur on school grounds but are not part of Ontario’s formal curriculum. These activities include things such as participation in school sports teams, plays, clubs and academic groups. In Ontario, the term that is currently used to describe extra and co-curricular activities is co-instructional activities. The teacher’s participation in co-instructional activities is not required by the province and is regarded as voluntary. However, co-instructional activities are seen as an extremely important part of the educational experience.

Dress Code
Most Catholic secondary schools have rules that require students to dress according to a specific dress code. The Ontario Ministry of Education gives other schools the option to use dress codes, but only if they would like to do so. All dress codes enforced by schools must follow the Minister’s guidelines. This means that all dress codes must be affordable and consistent with Canada’s Human Rights Code and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.