Calgary

Recent education graduates bolstering Alberta substitute teacher ranks

Alberta school boards say they've hired hundreds of recent university graduates or 'pre-service' teachers to help fill substitute teacher requests that have grown exponentially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The province's major metro school boards say hiring processes have been accelerated this year

Many of the province's school boards are speeding up hiring processes so that new Alberta bachelor of education graduates can help fill an increase in teacher vacancies brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Halfpoint/Shutterstock)

Some Alberta school boards are expediting the process to get new education graduates in classrooms to help bolster substitute teacher rosters, which have struggled throughout the pandemic to meet 100 per cent of guest teacher requests.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) said this spring it hired 146 new teachers, most of whom are recent university graduates.

"Though this is a typical number of new hires for our system, we were deliberate in accelerating the hiring process for new teachers during the 2021 spring staffing cycle," said CBE spokesperson Megan Geyer in an email.

"New teachers hired this spring were able to begin working with CBE students the first week of May or even earlier."

Geyer said while the total number of new teachers hired this year is expected to be comparable to previous years, the pace at which new hires were moved to the classroom is the key difference. 

'Deliberate in accelerating the hiring process'

Geyer said the CBE was "deliberate in accelerating the hiring process for new teachers during the 2021 spring staffing cycle." 

She said teaching candidates were interviewed as early as February 2021, and the board made conditional offers as soon as possible.

"We encouraged and supported teaching candidates to complete required paperwork, such as police clearance and temporary teaching licenses, as quickly as possible to ensure they were able to start working soon after receiving their job offer," said Geyer. 

"The CBE's strategic approach to spring staffing has had a significant impact on our ability to fill teaching vacancies and substitute teacher requests."

The Calgary Board of Education says it had new grads teaching in schools as early as April. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The struggle to fill sub requests

The CBE has been open throughout the year about its inability to fill all of its substitute teacher requests after COVID-19 health guidelines and isolation rules resulted in an unprecedented increased need.

In the first 15 days of the school year, it experienced a 20 per cent increase in demand for substitute teachers compared to the same period in the 2019 school year.

At the same time, 30 per cent more substitute teachers have been added to the roster.

The Calgary Catholic School District's experience has been similar. 

In October, the district reported 90 per cent of its substitute teacher roster was working every day, and that's after it added 100 teachers to the roster between September and October. 

This spring, the district said it hired about 100 new teachers, which is steady when compared to previous years — but they're working sooner and more often.

"Guest teacher fill rates vary daily, but I can tell you that this year about 70 to 85 per cent of absences have been filled. Last year I believe the average was about 95 per cent," said district spokeswoman Sandra Borowski in an email.

"This is because we have approximately the same number of guest teachers on our roster, but have seen a significant increase in isolation requirements."

New teacher pilot project 

The Edmonton Public School Board said it proactively reached out to post-secondary institutions this winter and spring to connect with upcoming education graduates. 

"We are actively screening and interviewing applications for both contract substitute positions for the remainder of this school year," wrote spokesperson Anna Batchelor.

"To expedite the screening and interviewing of new applicants, we have added to our staff team this year. We've also created efficiencies in the application, documentation and certification processes for new graduates."

Batchelor said the division also implemented two new teacher pilot projects targeted to graduates, which started in January and resulted in the hiring of 52 new teachers. 

She said the goal of the projects was to help with day to day supply needs as well as build teacher capacity for special needs and French Immersion assignments.

"Teachers in pilot projects are assigned to 'host' schools and are available to fill supply positions and, when not filling supply positions, are immersed in the special needs or French Immersion program," she said. 

"These pilot teachers have also provided some flexibility to address supply 'pressure points' at other schools."

In October, the Calgary Catholic School District reported 90 per cent of its substitute teacher roster was working every day, and that's after it added 100 teachers to the roster between September and October. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Grads temporarily authorized to teach

Alberta Education says this year more than a thousand pre-service teachers have been temporarily authorized to teach.

"The registrar at Alberta Education has a process in place to allow for new Alberta [bachelor of education] graduates to be temporarily authorized to teach. This process bridges the gap between their graduation and the time it takes to assess their eligibility for a full teaching certificate," said press secretary Nicole Sparrow.

She said the exact number of pre-service teachers, and how many are currently working in schools isn't something Alberta Education tracks — as it hasn't been something considered noteworthy in the past, and individual school boards are in charge of their own staffing decisions.

Sparrow said the ministry recognizes that student teachers were impacted by the suspension of in‑school classes and were not able to complete the required 10 weeks of supervised student teaching.

"On a case-by-case basis, the registrar is considering exceptions to the 10-week practicum experience and may issue an interim professional certificate with conditions."

Edmonton Catholic Schools said it welcomed some new education graduates to our classrooms last week.

"We expect to add to this group in the upcoming weeks. As in previous years, we interview candidates prior to graduation so that once we receive their certification they can begin immediately," said spokesperson Christine Meadows in a statement. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story attributed a pilot project underway with the Edmonton Public School Board to the Edmonton Catholic School District.
    May 09, 2021 9:09 AM MT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at lucie.edwardson@cbc.ca

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