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Teacher shortage in Calgary grows as substitutes aren’t filling absences

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WATCH: Administrators with the Calgary Board of Education are facing some serious challenges when it comes to teacher absences and the inability to fill the vacancies. As Jill Croteau reports, it's hoped 250 substitute teachers in onboarding Monday are available to take on new assignments. – May 2, 2022

School systems across the country have had to navigate through a lot of tough lessons over the past couple of years and as administrators try and learn from it all, the staffing challenges in Calgary are unrelenting.

Bob Cocking, the president of Calgary Public Teachers, says it’s more challenging than ever to fill a growing number of absences.

“It’s definitely been a concern. It’s one of those things where you think things are going to get better over time and how much longer do we have to hang in there? Doing internal coverage and every other creative solutions to the problem and it just doesn’t seem to be going away,” Cocking said.

Read more: Pandemic response, teacher shortage top priorities for incoming BCTF president

The numbers prove the pressures. On Monday, the Calgary Board of Education revealed that out of 729 teacher vacancies, 447 were filled. The lack of support staff positions are equally as low, with 310 out of 528 filled.

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Despite the number of substitute teachers, they aren’t accepting those positions.

“I don’t think that the CBE or ourselves know exactly why it could be. The fact is CBE has enough substitutes on the roster. There truly is enough people and teachers in place to sub. We are not sure why they are not picking up these jobs and that’s the mystery,” Cocking said.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association representatives said some schools are doubling up classrooms, others are swapping subjects for those who can work. Parents of students at Calgary’s Colonel Irvine school recently received a letter detailing the struggles.

Ken Luu has a daughter in Grade 7.

“So far it’s been seamless. My daughter mentioned a gym teacher was teaching math but other than that she seems okay,” Luu said.

The CBE acknowledges there has been an increase in absences but says the situation at Colonel Irvine isn’t reflective of all schools.

Even still, the ATA worries teachers are at risk of burnout without a more sustainable plan. The recent onboarding of 250 substitute teachers, mostly new graduates, hopes to alleviate some of the pressure.

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