Part III of It's Elementary: A Brief History of Ontario's Public Elementary School Teachers and their Federations

Barbara Richter

PART 3: Early 1945 to 1980

The postwar landscape

The teacher federations survived a recession, a depression, and two world wars. They emerged from the war  years with their existence and their memberships guaranteed by the 1944  Teaching Profession Act. The new Act boosted federation membership: overnight FWTAO membership jumped to 12,500 from 5,3001  and that of  OPSMTF to 3,400 from about 1,6002 members. OTF and the five affiliates became effective lobby groups with government and formidable advocates for teachers with school boards and the public.

With wartime restrictions lifted, the federations could resume action on their key issues – raising the status of  the profession and improving the economic conditions of teachers. Women teachers were also seeking equal pay with their male colleagues.

When school opened in September 1947 Ontario’s elementary schools were short over 1,000 teachers.  Classrooms were bursting: students had to share desks and learning materials. Boards scrambled to find teachers. Married women, sent home after the war, were called back. The postwar baby boom brought both challenges and opportunities. In 1945-46 there were 436,709 public elementary school students in Ontario. Ten years later there were 643,951, an increase of almost 50 per cent.3


The push for professionalism

The federations believed the teacher shortage provided an opportunity to improve salaries to encourage  people to enter or return to teaching. Both FWTAO and OPSMTF worked to enhance teacher professionalism. They encouraged members to improve their qualifications and to adhere to the code of professional ethics  outlined in the  Teaching Profession Act. They endorsed higher standards for teacher education and a university degree for all teachers.

In a crushing blow to the federations’ efforts, the government responded by lowering standards for entrance to the profession and issuing letters of permission to people with no or incomplete teaching  qualifications.4  In 1952 the government again lowered standards, to give a temporary certificate to a grade 12 graduate who completed a six-week summer course.

Faced  with  an  increasing  number  of  members  with  little or no training, and in an effort to  maintain standards, both federations developed their first in-service programs. FWTAO organized conferences and workshops, developed recommended reading  lists,  and  encouraged  its  local   associations  to  offer professional development opportunities.5 OPSMTF, recognizing its members were mostly Intermediate-grade teachers, vice-principals, and principals, offered summer courses in school supervision, administration,and effective practices for Intermediate classrooms.6  From these humble beginnings both federations developed extensive professional development departments.

The fight for equal pay



ETFO Members standing outside the front of West Gallery

When Mary Bell became the president of the Wisconsin teachers’ union in 2007, she didn’t envisage she’d be leading a grassroots battle agai

women pointing at projection with a photo of another women displayed

Something amazing happens when teachers openly discuss how to meet the needs of all students. The discussion begins to take the form of a lively debate on what has been tried, what worked, and what needed tweaking.