Union warns of growing burnout, reliance on uncertified teachers amid B.C. staffing crunch

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BCTF warns of teacher shortage
As the BC Teacher's Federation holds its annual general meeting, the union is warning about the growing impact of teacher and classroom shortages on the province's kids. Angela Jung reports. – Mar 18, 2024

The union representing B.C. teachers is holding its annual general meeting, and the province’s ongoing teacher shortage is at the top of the agenda.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Clint Johnston said the shortage is causing problems in every district in the province, and shows no sign of letting up.

“The government itself has projected that over the next several years they are going to need about 20,000, just to keep up with the expanding students,” Johnston told Global News.

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Addressing B.C.’s teacher shortage at the budget

The shortage is so severe that many districts are recruiting uncertified teachers to fill holes in their schedules.

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In December, two-thirds of substitute teacher shifts were being covered by teachers without certification, Johnston said.

“It’s not an easy job. It requires a lot of training, a lot of understanding, to support the students to achieve what they can,” he said.

“So when you have somebody that doesn’t have any of that training, you know, they can manage a room maybe and get kids through the day, but they’re certainly not giving them the education their parents expect and that those children deserve.”

Johnston said some of the uncertified teachers have some form of post-secondary education, but alleged others were recruited right from the school parking lot.

According to the provincial data, as of December, there were 160 uncertified teachers with a letter of permission to work in the public school system.

Johnston said the situation has had spillover effects on specialist and resource teachers, who are increasingly being pulled to cover absences in other classrooms.

Pulling those teachers away from their actual duties has a disproportionate impact on kids with special education needs, he added, leaving them at risk of “slipping through the cracks.”

Robin Brenner is an English language learner (ELL) teacher in Langley where he supports students for whom English is a second language.

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Brenner told Global News he does most of his teaching in school hallways because there is no classroom available for him and other ELL teachers.

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Teacher shortage and wage challenges in B.C. education

“How do you explain to parents that yeah, I’m a teacher, I am a professional, but we are going to teach your son or daughter in the hallway because there is no space or classroom to do the job,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s quite demoralizing. I’ve spent a long time in school, I’m highly trained. And we have people saying yeah, we value you, but we have no space.”

In addition to not having their own classrooms, he said ELL teachers and other resource workers are frequently pulled to cover regular teachers’ absences.

Meanwhile, he said, teachers fear the growing use of uncertified teachers will go from being a temporary solution to a permanent one — making it feel like the job is viewed as a glorified “babysitting” position.

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“Stressful, demoralizing. Burnout,” he said.

“If I was 20 years younger I would gladly go back overseas simply because you have a place to work and you are valued and people want to learn and people will accommodate what you need,” he said.

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Vancouver teacher shortage diverting education assistants, impacting families

Education Minister Rachna Singh was not available for an on-camera interview.

In a statement, she acknowledged the province was being challenged by a “tight labour market.”

“My ministry is actively working to support school districts in their recruitment efforts and we’re engaging with our education partners to support those interested in a career in teaching and develop a province-wide workforce strategy to recruit, train, hire, and retain more K-12 staff,” she said.

The ministry added that it has expanded the number of seats in teacher education programs by 350 since 2018, and changed certification standards to attract more internationally-trained teachers.

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The province is also working on a comprehensive K-12 workforce strategy, and intends to fund the creation of a second cohort of teachers through UBC’s rural and remote teacher education program next year, it said.

That strategy will need to include significant funding to both recruit new and retain existing teachers or the classroom crunch will get even worse, according to the union.

“It looks like burnout,” Johnston said, “and more people who are thinking about leaving the system.”

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