Kitchener-Waterloo

Local school boards hiring 165 teachers to help with online learning

Teachers have a "buyer's market" when it comes to looking for jobs in Waterloo region, according to local education leaders.

Teachers have a 'buyer's market' when it comes to jobs in Waterloo region, union head says

Teachers have a "buyer's market" when it comes to looking for jobs in Waterloo region, according to local education leaders.

Patrick Etmanski is the head of the Waterloo unit of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and he says there aren't enough teachers to fill all the vacancies.

"There's a huge teachers' shortage right now," he said. "They're needed all over the place."

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board needs 76 extra teachers to help with remote learning, says John Shewchuk, the board's chief managing officer.

"The process of staffing these positions is ongoing. We do not anticipate filling all with our existing complement of occasional teachers and are recruiting externally as well," he said in an email on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Waterloo Region District School Board announced on Thursday it was pushing back elementary distance learning to Sept. 18 while it hires 90 elementary teachers and 30 designated early childhood educators to help the more than 9,200 students who opted for online learning this fall.

The Waterloo Region District School Board says the hiring process is ongoing.

The Ministry of Education said it understands there will be an increase in demand for teachers this year "due to school board reopen plans and the choices parents make with respect to in person or remote learning."

"In light of COVID-19 and its impact on the 2020-21 school year, an increase in teacher demand may occur, resulting in the need for more occasional teachers and/or classroom support," a ministry spokesperson said in an email to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

"The ministry is committed to supporting school boards with addressing the possibility, and is planning to engage with the sector on possible solutions."

Early retirements?

Some of the school boards are also seeing some teachers retire or resign rather than return to the classroom.

Rob Gascho, president of district 24 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, says about 10 teachers announced late in the summer that they were planning to retire.

"Probably most of those were connected to concerns about how school was going to unfold in the fall. It might have been health concerns for themselves, it might have been just being stressed out about all the changes and how different it would be or their ability to do online or whatever it was," he said.

He said 10 is "not a huge group," but often,teachers retire in June rather than the end of summer.

Etmanski said about a dozen teachers he spoke to were either planning to retire, resign or were considering doing so in the next week or two.

"Some of them have said I'm going to give it a week and see how it goes," he said. "Some of them are past their retirement date and can go. Others are close and are saying it's not worth it. There is a penalty for retiring early but is it worth it to come back under the conditions we're coming back under?"

Greg Weiler, president of the Waterloo Region Teacher Local of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said he's unaware of any retirements or resignations "outside of what would be normal so far."

"It certainly doesn't mean it hasn't been a factor in anyone's decision, but we have no way to connect them directly," he said in an email.

Accommodations made for some, not all, teachers

Remote learning wasn't offered to all teachers, Weiler said.

"For anyone with documented medical accommodations or at high risk due to [COVID-19], distance learning was offered," Weiler said.

For the most part, high school teachers who wanted to teach remotely were able to, but priority was for people who needed to for medical purposes, Gascho said.

Etmanski said teachers who had their own health issues were given the option for remote learning, but if they had a child or elderly relative living with them who was immunocompromised, they weren't.

"I know there are a number of people who are really in desperate straits right now," he said, adding school boards were stuck between a rock and a hard place if "they couldn't find somebody to replace the person they're pulling out of the classroom."

Bus companies also hiring

Benoit Bourgault, general manger of Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region, said school bus operators are still hiring for this fall.

"Some bus drivers are anxious, reasonably so," he said in an email.

"Some [drivers] have elected to temporarily wait and see how the pandemic will evolve or quit as there is a lot of unknown," he said.

Bourgault said they have several openings for drivers, and operators are offered free driver training to upgrade their license. 

Despite the fact that they're still hiring, Bourgault said there will be gaps, but "we should be able to cover [routes] with minimal impact to service if any."

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