North

N.W.T. school boards report adequate teacher supply, an outlier amid national teacher shortages

School boards in the N.W.T. say they expect to be fully staffed by the first day of school at the end of August, despite school boards across Canada reporting struggles to hire staff amidst teacher shortages.

N.W.T. school boards report fewer than 5 vacancies each, and they expect to fill those spots in coming weeks

Main office of the Yellowknife Education District No. 1, also known as the YK1 school board, in downtown Yellowknife. (Donna Lee/CBC)

School boards across Canada have been struggling to hire staff amid teacher shortages that have been plaguing the nation since the start of Omicron in January.

In the North, both Yukon and Nunavut have reported large numbers of vacant teaching positions coming into the 2021-2022 school year.

But that doesn't seem to be the case for school boards in the Northwest Territories, which are expecting to be fully staffed by the first day of school at the end of August.

"For teachers, we're actually looking pretty good," said Landon Kowalzik, interim assistant superintendent for Yellowknife Education District No. 1, adding they have about 150 teachers now, with about four positions that are almost filled.

"We are in the process of filling them now through interviews and/or active recruitment and I do expect that we will have them all filled by the end of this week." 

The Dehcho Divisional Education Council also has four or five vacancies that they are confident they will be able to fill, according to superintendent Philippe Brûlot.

Superintendent Souhail Soujah says the South Slave Divisional Education Council also has four positions left to fill.

March Gacayan, human resources officer intern for Yellowknife Catholic Schools, says they have three vacancies left to fill.

And superintendent Yvonne Careen says the Commission Scolaire Francophone Territories du Nord-Ouest is fully staffed for the upcoming school year.

These numbers are normal for this time of year, according to school board representatives. 

"Just to put things in perspective here, year in and year out we always start the school year being short a couple of teachers, so it's not like there's a drastic increase," said Brûlot.

Soujah, who also worked in education in Nova Scotia, said it's not uncommon across the country to start the school year with unfilled vacancies.

Hiring teachers still a challenge in the N.W.T.

While school boards have filled most of their teaching positions, hiring staff did not come without its challenges. 

School board reps report fewer qualified applicants for those positions as a result of the national teacher shortage. 

"Recruitment has been very challenging this year, although we've been able to hire very qualified teachers for the positions we've filled," stated Renee Closs, superintendent for the Sahtu Divisional Education Council, in an email. "However, the number of applicants has not been the same as in past years."

Careen said the Commission Scolaire Francophone also had fewer applications than usual, and that "the quality of the applications can be somewhat of lesser quality. It depends on the position and if specialities are required." 

Kowalzik said it has been especially difficult to find French immersion teachers. 

"There's such a high demand [for French teachers] across the entire country that if you're a french immersion teacher you can go almost anywhere you want," said Kowalzik.

School boards are also struggling with out-of-territory teachers turning down jobs because they can't find adequate housing.

"It's been a little bit of a struggle for hires and one of the biggest pieces is housing," said Gacayan.

"One of the things we have heard from people who we interviewed is they'd love to come but chose not to because they can't find a place to rent, or they can't find an affordable place," said Kowalzik.

"The financial incentives that distinguished the north are no longer enough to attract teachers," said Soujah in an email. "This (has) made that much more difficult because of the lack of affordable housing, or in some instances housing at all."

Brûlot and Careen say housing has also been a continuing barrier for hiring teachers for their school boards as well, though it's one the territory's education sector has faced for many years before the pandemic. 

School boards worry about substitute teacher supply

Most school boards in the N.W.T. are in the early stages of building their supply teacher list, but already they are worried there won't be enough. 

"We do have people that have come to apply to be subs but we certainly won't have enough, and it's going to be the case with all school boards in Yellowknife, especially French teachers," said Careen. 

Kowalzik said many long-time subs returned home during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Meanwhile, he added some were hired to be full-time education assistants, "which is fantastic," Kowalzik said, "because they do a good job for us, but that also means one less person on the sub list."

This has been an ongoing struggle in the N.W.T., and school boards have to make compromises as a result.

That includes subs not always having an education background, said Gacayan. 

Kowalzik estimates that of the 110 to 130 substitutes for the Yellowknife Education District, only 10 have an education degree.

And demand for substitute teachers has grown over the last several years as a result of the pandemic.

"With everyone being more aware of, if you're not feeling well, you probably shouldn't come in because it might not just be a cold anymore, we'll have to rely on our subs more than we have in years past," said Kowalzik.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rose Danen

Reporter

Rose Danen is a small-town reporter from Ontario. She loves telling stories about politics, social inequality, and small communities. She previously reported for CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at rose.danen@cbc.ca.

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