British Columbia

B.C. schools remain understaffed, teachers' union says

The ongoing teacher shortage in B.C. will continue into the new year, according to the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

Not enough teachers on call to fill the gaps left by ongoing shortage, BCTF says

Students in B.C. schools are being left without essential schools services as teachers are reassigned to classroom roles in an attempt to fill the gaps left by an ongoing teacher shortage in the province, according to the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

Four months into the school year, the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) is concerned that schools are still anxiously working to fill more than 400 teaching jobs throughout the province.

On top of that, the union says the lack of on-call teachers means staff continue to be taken out of essential roles in other parts of their schools to make up for absent teachers, leaving students without promised services. 

"The same problems that we were seeing this time last year are still persisting," Glen Hansman, president of the BCTF, told CBC's The Early Edition guest host Laura Lynch.

Earlier this year, the BCTF filed and won a grievance against the Chilliwack school board for not hiring enough teachers to fill the demand. At the time, Hansman said that ruling would set a precedent for other school boards to hire the correct number of teachers, but now he says districts provincewide are still finding alternative ways to fill the gaps, because they can't find enough full-time and on-call teachers.

"What we're seeing right now in the North and the Interior … school districts there [are] relying almost exclusively on retirees to be teachers teaching on call or are utilizing what we call uncertified people," Hansman said. 

"So, people who did not get trained as a teacher, who are not certified as a teacher, but might have been a volunteer at the school in the past, might be a parent in the community or someone with a university degree but isn't actually trained as a teacher, and ... they're working in the school system right now in regular classrooms."

Lower wages, high cost of living

Hansman attributes the struggle to find teachers partly to the wages for teachers in B.C. He says in other provinces, starting wages for teachers can be up to $20,000 more per year. With the high cost of living in B.C., particularly in the Lower Mainland, he said it's understandable that people would leave for a more affordable place.

"People are making that choice and this isn't just a K to 12 problem, it's a problem in health care, in the restaurant industry — tech firms moving into Vancouver are having a hard time staffing their jobs," Hansman said.

While the situation may look grim, Hansman has come up with some possible solutions, including starting a mentorship program to keep people in their B.C. teaching jobs, and student loan forgiveness for teachers.

"There's a lot of creative solutions that don't necessarily require opening up a collective agreement or committing to some ongoing costs, but could address the problem in the here and now to get enough people to come from out of province that are qualified, have a teaching certificate, who will stay in the community and commit to it for a number of years, and provide some stability for the students that we work with."

With files from The Early Edition

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