Housing crisis is a factor in Nunavut teacher shortage

With the start of the school year only days away, the Nunavut Teachers Association worries the territory's education department may have difficulty hiring enough teachers.

'It's pretty scary right now,' says Nunavut Teachers Union president Justin Matchett

Tugaalik High School in Naujaat, Nunavut, in 2020. As of Friday, one in 10 teacher positions in Nunavut's Kivalliq region were unfilled, including six in Naujaat, where classes resume Aug. 15. (High Arctic Haulers/CBC)

With the start of the school year only days away, the Nunavut Teachers Association worries the territory's education department may have difficulty hiring enough teachers in communities like Cambridge Bay, Arctic Bay, Kinngait, Igloolik and Naujaat, where multiple positions remain unfilled.

School gets underway next week in Nunavut for many teachers, with students in 10 communities, from Kugluktuk to Arctic Bay, slated to return Aug. 15.

That's according to the territorial school calendar obtained from the Government of Nunavut's education department.

According to the government, educator vacancies vary every day, but as of July 26, the Qikiqtani region still lacked 73.5 positions, the Kivalliq region 28 and the Kitikmeot region 12.

By Aug. 2, the number of open positions had fallen to 23 in the Kivalliq, said Sandi Chan, the acting manager for communications.

On that date the Kivalliq was 90 per cent staffed, she said.

Students leave the Killinik High School in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in September 2019. Classes resume at the school on Aug. 22, though 12 teacher positions remained unfilled in Nunavut's Kitikmeot region as of Friday. (Jane George/CBC)

But there are still many vacancies in the Kivalliq, such as in Naujaat, where six positions, including high school teachers for English and Math were still listed Friday on the recruitment website that lists openings for teachers in Nunavut.

Justin Matchett, president of the Nunavut Teachers Association, estimated that more than 100 teachers, or about one in six, decided not to return to Nunavut for the upcoming school year.

While there are a lot of positions open in southern Canada, where the cost of living is lower, Matchett said he doesn't think the exodus from Nunavut is "all about money at this point."

That's because a new contract signed earlier this year gave Nunavut teachers a seven per cent raise over four years, with salaries of up to $124,807 a year.

'The housing shortage is really affecting us'

A major hurdle to teacher retention continues to be the lack of housing, Matchett said, as many communities ask teachers to share housing.

"One of the biggest issues we deal with at our office is people who aren't getting along with their roommates," he said. "You get people in isolated communities living together, working together all day, and they go home and spend the evening with each other. You can imagine that gets stressful.

"The housing shortage is really affecting us."

Matchett also cites a general lack of direction, violence in the classrooms and poor leadership on curriculum issues as a contributing factor to retention numbers.

"People feel like they are spinning their wheels and not going anywhere," he said.

"Nunavut has been an independent jurisdiction since 1999, but it still relies on outside curriculum. If people can get jobs easier in places where there's a better grasp [on that], they go that way."

As well, Matchett said COVID fatigue is striking some teachers who didn't leave Nunavut for two years straight due to the pandemic.

"Now the restrictions have lifted, so that's a group that says 'I want to go,'" he said.

If vacant teaching positions aren't filled soon, teachers in some communities could be asked to teach one grade and then another on a rotational basis. Communities could also see teachers without qualifications hired on letters of authority.

"It's pretty scary right now," Matchett said of the uncertain view ahead.

The Education department was not able to respond this week to requests for more information about retention issues.


Jane George is a reporter with CBC Nunavut. Prior to August 2021, George worked at Nunatsiaq News for more than 20 years, winning numerous community newspaper awards.