Education programs struggling to keep up with demand for more teachers
Post-secondary programs need more spots and teacher mentors for practicum placements
With the need for teachers so high in British Columbia right now, there isn't a better time to go into teacher training and the spike in enrolment numbers at post-secondary institutions across the province is reflecting the demand.
Hundreds of positions remained unfilled as school began this week, after a Supreme Court ruling restored class sizes to 2002 levels, increasing the interest in teacher training with the promise of future employment.
At the University of Northern B.C.'s School of Education, 15 more seats were added for incoming students this year. Andrew Kitchenham, chair of the school, said smaller education programs like his are barely keeping up with the demand for more teachers.
"We have all asked for more seats in our programs. As we move into that, we will be able to keep up, but the challenge for a program as small as UNBC is practicum placements," Kitchenham said.
More teacher mentors needed
Students take theoretical education coursework and are then mentored by a practising teacher during a school placement. In an area like Prince George, where UNBC is based, there are fewer options for practicum placements compared to a larger metropolitan city like Vancouver or Victoria, because there are less schools in which to place teachers-in-training.
"Places like UBC, SFU, UVic, they can immediately take more students because they are much larger and are drawing from an incredibly large metropolitan area, six or seven school districts," Kitchenham said. "For us, that's problematic."
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His program used to draw on two or three school districts to place students, but now, Kitchenham said, they are looking at regularly using five different districts for practicum placements. And, along with a demand for teachers, is a growing demand for teacher mentors.
"We are trying to to get new blood," he said. "We have a lot of fantastic coaching teachers out there that sponsor our students but, in fairness, they have done it for a decade."
He said that, soon, he will be going to freshly graduated teachers in their first year of working and asking them to coach student teachers.
"We need to replenish our pool of great coaching teachers," Kitchenham said.
Promise of jobs
For students in education program, the growing need for more teachers is reassuring and a promise of employment.
Becky Dochstader, who graduated last year, is going into her first year of teaching this week.
"I'm just coming in at such a good time to be a teacher," she said. "For a first year graduate to come out and be able to build something from the ground up is just a phenomenal opportunity."
Listen to Course Correction: Beginning the new era of B.C. education on CBC Radio 1 from Sept. 5 to 8, 2017.