British Columbia

Hiring spree of B.C. teachers means substitutes in short supply

For years in British Columbia there was a glut of substitute teachers, as UBC's education program developed many more graduates than there were full-time positions available in the province. But, that's no longer the case.

Over 100 teacher positions have not been backfilled in Surrey on some days

B.C. school districts are finding it's difficult to locate enough substitute teachers due to a new hiring rush. (Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

For years in British Columbia, there has been a glut of substitute teachers in the Lower Mainland, as UBC's education program developed many more graduates than there were full-time positions available in the province. 

Now, school districts are facing the opposite problem.

Throughout Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, schools are struggling to find people to quickly come in to replace teachers who are sick or on leave.  

In Surrey, there have been days where upwards of 100 teachers haven't been backfilled with substitutes.

"Sometimes the principal fills in. Teachers might be asked to cover those classes instead of taking their prep time. We may pull a librarian or a music teacher or a learning support teacher to fill in," said Kevin Fadum, the school district's principal of human resources.

It creates many logistical challenges, as administrators realize that the stable of people they've relied on to fill in are suddenly no longer available.

"It just stops the work that the principal has to do, it stops it for a day. I mean that's the work of the principal. They wear a million hats and they just have to put those things on hold," said Kevin Godden, superintendent of the Abbotsford School District.

​Teachers being hired after $50M fund established

It's a result of a B.C. Teachers' Federation landmark victory in the Supreme Court of Canada late last year, effectively overturning 14 years of staffing levels being outside the purview of collective bargaining. 

It means the provincial government will have to restore staffing to 2002 levels, and in January the government announced an interim step of $50 million for 1,100 new teachers across B.C.

That's created a rush on teachers — which in turn, has caused a dearth of substitutes. 

"This has created some challenges," said a Ministry of Education spokesperson in a statement. 

"We are looking at initiatives to assist school districts with filling vacant positions – particularly specialist positions where there may be a limited labour supply." 

No short-term fix likely

BCTF President Glen Hansman believes school districts should have done a better job anticipating the possibility they might have to hire teachers quickly in the result of a union victory.

"It would mean that a lot more jobs would have to be filled and so shame on some of those school districts that haven't been thinking ahead and starting to plan for it," he said.

Regardless of whether school districts could have prepared more, at least one principal says the sub situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

"Why did my child have 4 different teachers this week?" wrote a Port Moody principal in a letter to parents this week.

"I'm hearing that question a lot lately and anticipate hearing it more in the foreseeable future ... we are attempting to hire more [substitutes] but every district in the Lower Mainland is interviewing the same people.  Qualified teachers without jobs is a very limited pool to draw from.

"What can you do about it? The answer is nothing. Nobody likes it but there are simply no easy solutions. All I can guarantee is that there will always be a qualified teacher in charge of every class." 

With files from Anita Bathe