Teacher shortage still a problem one full month into new school year: BC Teachers’ Federation

Glen Hansman

WITH a full month of the school year now complete, many BC schools are still struggling with a shortage of full-time teachers and the situation is about to get a lot worse when cold and flu season hits, BCTF President Glen Hansman said on Monday.

“With 10% of the school year already over, school districts and the employers’ association need to get moving on concrete measures to recruit and retain teachers right across BC,” said Hansman.

“For months, the BCTF has been proposing ideas, but we haven’t seen any meaningful action that will bring into BC the high number of teachers our schools need for both contract and on-call positions. Outreach to potential candidates out of province is helpful, but on its own is not enough to attract the necessary numbers of new teachers to BC.

“It’s only a matter of days before the cold and flu season hits our schools. When that happens, the critical shortage of on-call teachers will lead to significant disruptions to schools and students. We are already seeing cases of unfilled teacher vacancies in schools on a daily basis. And in some extreme cases, some students still don’t have their permanent teacher.”

Hansman explained that it’s not uncommon or unreasonable to see some staffing and organizing complications in the first two or three weeks of school. However, after a full month, the challenges schools are still facing should have been fixed. The slow pace of recruitment in several districts is starting to affect students’ educational programs.

He said: “In some districts, the work has gone well, but in others, serious problems remain. We’re now hearing of cases where specialist teachers are being redeployed to fill vacancies in regular classrooms. This has a detrimental effect on the students who rely on the extra help they get from specialists. For example, some English language learner students or students with special needs are now losing out on time with their specialists because those teachers are being sent into classrooms to cover for absences or unfilled positions. This shouldn’t be the norm, but some districts have allowed this to become the norm. This is not okay, and it needs to stop.

“We’re also seeing examples of school districts moving resources around, instead of lifting up services everywhere, to the detriment of some schools and programs. For example, in Vancouver, some inner-city schools are worse off this year in terms of staffing levels and support as resources were shifted away by management. And in Surrey, there has been a cutback by management in learning support teachers across the district. These situations, and similar ones in other districts, need to be fixed quickly.”

Hansman said it’s time for the employers to hit fast forward and quickly implement a robust recruitment and retention strategy.

He added: “The BCTF is eager to work with the new government, school districts, and the BC Public School Employers’ Association on implementing new strategies and incentives to deal with the current teacher shortage.”

Hansman explained that some solutions might be regional while others might be province-wide.

He said: “From our point of view, possible solutions include incentives like student loan forgiveness, professional supports, and meaningful assistance with housing and moving expenses. BC must also confront the high cost of living and the low wages starting teachers receive in our province. Other than Quebec, which has lower standards, new teachers in BC have the lowest starting salaries when compared to other provinces. It makes it tough to convince the necessary number of candidates to come to BC when starting salaries are so low, there a very limited number of places to rent, and cost of living is so high.

“If a well-funded recruitment and retention strategy is not put in place soon, the situation is going to get much worse very quickly.”