The ongoing shortage of classroom teachers, teachers teaching on call (TTOCs), and specialists continues to cause problems for students with less than a month to go in the current school year--and now, the shortage is threatening to cause significant disruptions in September, said BC Teachers' Federation President Glen Hansman.
“It's been over 15 months since the March 2017 agreement that implemented teachers' restored class-size and class-composition collective agreement language, but not enough has been done to resolve the ongoing teacher shortage,” said Hansman. “It's also been six months since a government task force on recruitment and retention strategies made recommendations for immediate actions, but only some have been implemented.
“It's now June 1st and there are still reports of non-certified teachers working in classrooms, students with special needs losing out on their programs or being sent home, and hundreds of classes with class compositions that don't meet the learning needs of students. While there were some announcements in February to slightly increase teacher education spots, the lack of bold action and provincial co-ordination means the shortage will make the next school year challenging as well.”
Hansman explained that the teacher shortage has become such a concern that the BCTF was forced to launch a provincial grievance, which is now in arbitration.
“The key issues we want addressed by that arbitration are the failure to have sufficient TTOCs available to fill in for absent classroom teachers as well as the impact of pulling specialist teachers away from their students, who are among the most vulnerable.”
Hansman provided several specific examples that show how the teacher shortage is affecting students' education.
In Quesnel, there were nine full-time teaching jobs held by non-certified people this spring.
In Prince Rupert, like many other districts, students with special needs are losing their specialized daily programs when a specialist teacher is assigned to cover a classroom teacher's absence.
In Vancouver, where affordability has made recruitment issues even more challenging, there are 1,817 classes with four or more children with special needs, 663 of those have seven or more. Those students are not getting the one-on-one or small group support they would receive if class-composition numbers were more reasonable. The TTOC shortage means special education teachers are being redeployed away from those students, making the situation even worse for them.
“These examples show that the lack of bold action to resolve the teacher shortage is hampering students' education,” said Hansman. “If the government and school districts don't address these concerns urgently, students will keep losing out when the new school year starts. School districts need to do a better job of organizing classes and hiring enough TTOCs. The government can help school districts do this by implementing the rest of the immediate and longer-term actions recommended by The Minister's Task Force on Immediate Recruitment and Retention Challenges back in December.”
Some of the proposals the BCTF has put forward to address the teacher shortage include the following:
- housing and moving allowances accessible in all school districts
- mentorship programs to support retention of new teachers
- waiving fees for retiring teachers trying to recertify
- expanding access to the current rural and remote living allowance
- a student loan forgiveness program
- a shortened salary grid to make teachers' starting wages more competitive with other provinces
- financial assistance for current teachers seeking additional qualifications in specialty areas.