A Nova Scotia teacher with 25 years of classroom experience says the demand for substitute teachers is "unheard of" this year and has consequences for the rest of the school system.

If a substitute can't be found, teachers who have a free period that would normally be spent doing prep work are instead acting as substitutes.

"That takes away from the preparation for the regular class," Richard MacLean told CBC's Information Morning.

He currently teaches business management at Halifax West High School.

MacLean said teachers have even been asking on social media if people can substitute.

"This early on in the school year, normally you wouldn't see schools not being able to fill substitute positions, you wouldn't see everyday teachers covering for substitutes because you can't find them and we're seeing that now ... that's unheard of," he said.

Expanded recruitment efforts

Liette Doucet, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said teachers are stretched thin.

"Sometimes the administrator has to fill in for part of the day, sometimes specialist teachers are pulled away from students they need to see on their caseload to cover classes," she said.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said the shortage is the unintended consequence of hiring 761 additional full-time teachers across the province since taking office in 2013, including 140 of them for this school year.

"We do have a pressure that does need to be dealt with, so we're working with our boards in terms of expanding recruitment efforts," he told Information Morning.

$180/day for subbing

The teachers union says substitutes earn $180 a day when they work on a day-to-day basis. When they're covering one class for more than 18 days straight, their earnings are based on a teacher's pay scale.

"These people are trying to make a living, and many are finding that very difficult," Doucet said. "Many substitutes have been on the substitute lists for years and they're giving up. They are not getting jobs that are permanent. The government needs to look at that as well."

MacLean said the issue is compounded by strong demand for teachers in other provinces.

Zach Churchill

Education Minister Zach Churchill says school boards are taking steps such as hiring competent people without education degrees to act as substitutes. (CBC)

He also said the substitute shortage has led to an increased reliance on retired teachers, who can only teach 69.5 days a year, or else face losing their pensions and benefits.

MacLean suggested one solution could be hiring teachers to act as permanent substitutes, at least in larger schools where there's regular demand.

To address the immediate shortage, Churchill said boards are taking steps such as hiring competent people without education degrees to act as substitutes, recruiting substitutes on social media, and co-ordinating professional development days so that a number of substitutes aren't needed at once.

'We could have seen this coming'

In the long term, Churchill said the department needs to ensure that graduates from education programs are matching the needs in the system, particularly in French and math.

MacLean is frustrated with what's happened.

"We could have seen this coming, we knew the province was going to do this, we knew we were going to hire more teachers," he said.


  • A previous version of the story said the province hired 761 additional teachers this year. In fact, the province said it hired 761 additional teachers since the Liberals took power in 2013.
    Oct 24, 2017 2:47 PM AT
With files from CBC's Information Morning and Elizabeth McMillan