Students across Canada have begun a new school year, but even as they crack open their books teachers and those who represent them are raising concerns there’s still not enough being done to fix ongoing teachers shortages from coast to coast to coast.
The shortages vary from province to territory. Some like Nova Scotia say most full-time roles are filled but they’re having issues in terms of substitute teachers. In the north, Nunavut is reporting a nine- to 10-per cent vacancy rate at the beginning of the school year, and while some schools are fully staffed, other communities are struggling.
And in Quebec two weeks ago, Education Minister Bernard Drainville confirmed that with school just around the corner, the province was lacking 1,859 full-time teachers and 6,699 part-time — coming to a total of 8,558 teachers missing.
Teachers say that variation has an impact on what they can provide to students and in the case of those who help some of the most vulnerable, like those with disabilities or who otherwise benefit from support, that support may not be as available.
Gurpreet Kaur Bains, a high school learning support and languages teacher in British Columbia, said the drop in the number of teachers has meant educators like herself are being shifted around to fill the spaces that are unfilled in other classrooms. But as a result, the focus she would normally pay to individual students is lost.
“Basically kids with IEPs (individual education plans) who have specific needs and some of them really need that support on a daily basis do not get it,” she told Global News on Tuesday.
She said when they are “short-bodied” in the classroom, other teachers, librarians, special education teachers and even counsellors will be asked to go into another person’s classroom to fill in. She added that the lack of resources is leading to mental health issues and burnout among teachers, calling it a “crisis situation.”
It’s just one such issue facing schools in the country.
In Saskatchewan, the province’s teachers’ federation says they’re seeing a “significant” number of uncertified teachers coming into schools. President Samantha Becotte said that these teachers, who often have no Bachelor’s of Education degree and may be only out of high school for four years, are being put in front of the classroom.
“If I were to think my own children had an individual who was uncertified … four years out of high school and no additional education, I would be very concerned about the level of support that they were able to provide my children,” she said.
In that province, according to the Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board, a temporary teaching permit is provided to individual applicants who don’t have a provincial teacher’s certificate but have graduated high school at least four years prior and is preferred to have some post-secondary education or specialized skill — such as mastery of a specific language.
But Becotte said while some educators in schools without that Bachelor’s degree may have specialized skills like practical and applied art teachers, she’s still concerned about others who may have very little training yet are being sent into the classroom. She added that teachers with the necessary education often have specialized skills that allow them to support a variety of needs and sizes of classes.
Nunavut Teachers’ Association President Justin Matchett says he has also seen teachers without the proper education coming into the territory to teach, which he feels is “devaluing our profession.”
“Just to throw anybody in a classroom and tell them they can do the job, that’s somebody who’s worked very hard for their position and their career,” he said. “It really devalues what we do and it’s really devaluing the education that students are getting.”
Matchett said while the new school year has not seen cancellations yet, there were some last year who had to tell certain classes that there was no school for them that day because they couldn’t find a teacher to teach it. He said part of the issue is that several communities in Nunavut have zero substitute teachers available.
“People don’t want to come in and deal with a headache if they don’t want to,” Matchett said. “The pay is not competitive enough.”
He explained that what he’s found is there have been teachers who may find work in a different job sector not only for pay, but because there is less demand, less stress and they are able to find more support than what he says teachers get.
Ryan Lutes, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, told Global News substitute teachers is where the province is seeing their biggest shortage as well.
Lutes said it’s been a mixture of issues, including the lack of stability the role affords.
“It’s challenging to wake up in the morning and not know where you’re going to be or if you’re going to be called in,” he said. “We’re asking people to want to get into this teaching profession, which can be a beautiful profession, and then we’re saying to folks, ‘OK you’re going to have to work a couple of years on not a living wage.”
He said a substitute teacher in Nova Scotia makes between approximately $32,000 and $35,000 annually. According to the Halifax Regional Centre for Education, the daily rate for a substitute teacher is $177.67.
With ongoing shortages nationwide, Lutes said the government needs to take more action to address the various issues, including the lack of support felt by many teachers.
“We have to make teaching, substitute teaching, but full-time teaching a respected profession where you can make ends meet and you can live a good life,” Lutes said.
Matchett added that the teaching profession also needs to feel more like a “family.”
“We need our government to step up and do things in a timely and professional manner that’s going to make our members feel supported, make them feel like they’re part of a family here,” he said. “We really can’t afford to lose many more.”
B.C. Premier David Eby acknowledged that province’s labour shortage on Monday, but said there were many challenges being faced across many sectors in the province due to the growth in the province.
“We think that certainly, the shortages that we’re facing are serious and we need to pay attention, and recruit and train additional teachers, but all kids are going to get a good education in British Columbia,” he told reporters.
He also repeated earlier comments by the province’s education minister that B.C. had added more than 250 teacher training seats in universities to address the issue and is examining the possibility of recognizing the credentials of internationally trained teachers.
But teacher Annie Ohana, who also serves as a local representative for the Surrey Teachers Association, said there’s still not enough being done, given many feel like they can’t keep up anymore. She said while some may say there’s a five-year burnout rate among teachers, she believes it’s even less than that and as a result, teachers are leaving the profession for another job.
Ohana added that the education system, like the health-care system, is in crisis but are being treated differently.
“If parents or community members really care about a decent education, it’s like a hospital. I do see it (education) as part of like the health-care system,” she said. “They are lacking nurses and doctors and all kinds of specialists in their world. Nobody is putting up with that.”
And Ohana says that means a lack of support for both teachers and students.
“Kids themselves aren’t getting that support and teachers are being overworked because they’re being asked to do more and more and more,” she said. “When the reality is with more teachers on the ground, it would be a little bit easier to kind of teach and do all the other responsibilities that teachers have.”