Early French immersion classes return this September and some anglophone school districts are struggling to fill positions for supply teachers.

The early entry point moved from Grade 3 to Grade 1 this year, with 76 schools across the province offering French immersion.

Gregg Ingersoll, superintendent for the Anglophone East School District, said the district has done well hiring full-time teachers but is "desperate" to find supply teachers to fill gaps from maternity leaves and other long-term positions.

"French immersion is a very popular program in our school district and it's great to have all those options," he said. "But obviously, when you need more teachers, you have to find the teachers."

Annual staffing challenges

Ingersoll said the district knew in May that it needed teachers for 34 French immersion classes. That number has grown to 38 classes, and he expects there will be even more students signing on before the start of the school year.

He said the district faces similar staffing challenges every year and French immersion teachers are only one of several areas experiencing a shortage, including speciality, art and music, and technology classes.

The district is now advertising for jobs on its website and is getting help from a recruitment committee with the Department of Education and Early Childhood. The department also hired six "education support teachers," who will work specifically with the Grade 1 classes to help teachers get the program going, he said.

While Ingersoll understands that a term position is less enticing than a full-time job, supply teachers can get their recall status after four months of work, which means they'll have a better chance at getting hired when a full-time position becomes available.

"So you can get your foot in the door and get a job," he said, adding that anyone who starts teaching French immersion now has a good chance at ending up with something long term "very soon."

Helping teachers return

But there's also some good news coming out of the new positions opening up for French immersion teachers, he said.

The district was able to bring teachers back to the province who were previously unable to find work here, he said. The district already recruited people from Alberta, Ontario, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia — many of them with 20 years of experience, he said.

"They are solid, they are ready to hit the ground running," he said, adding that many of these teachers would have applied with the district in the past but jobs often didn't become available until late in the summer.

The district also hired teachers who recently graduated from university, and people who studied teaching but have worked in other jobs since, including a lawyer and a banker, he said.

It will also consider offering contracts to people with a university degree in a certain area, even if they did not graduate as teachers.

"We are looking at doing that again and that gives an even broader range of people an opportunity to be supply teachers then," he said.

With files from Information Morning Moncton