N.W.T. doing 'much better than last year' at recruiting teachers, despite national shortage

Efforts to attract and retain teachers in the Northwest Territories are working, but there are still 23 vacant teaching positions ahead of the school year.

Territory still has 23 vacant teaching positions, schools set to start on time

A file photo of a classroom. There are still 23 unfilled teacher positions in the N.W.T. but the territorial government says that won't delay the start of school this year. (CBC)

As Canada faces a nationwide shortage of teachers, the Northwest Territories is also feeling the strain to fill teaching positions in time for the school year.

Yet despite the scarcity, concerted efforts across the territory have been getting real results, according to the territorial government and teachers' association. 

NWT Teachers' Association president Fraser Oliver said the Northwest Territories is doing "much better than last year." He estimates over one hundred new teachers came North this year.

But the territorial government's Department of Education, Culture and Employment said it is still trying to find teachers for 23 positions across the Northwest Territories. 

Oliver said part of the problem may be a lack of adequate, affordable housing.

He said he knows of a situation where a principal and two teachers have shared a three-bedroom apartment.

Fraser Oliver is president of the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association. He says he knows of cases where a principal and two teachers have shared an apartment due to a lack of housing. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"So the three of them will be living together. Well, how do you get along with your boss?" he said. "Sometimes that's difficult."

Education Department spokesperson Cherish Winsor said the vacant positions won't delay the first day of school. She said principals and school boards can take advantage of substitute teachers, or combine classes if no suitable teacher is found in time. 

According to the department, the Beaufort Delta, Sahtu, and Dehcho regions have struggled the most over the past two years. It noted that small, isolated communities have the hardest time filling their roster.

French language teachers are also in high demand, Winsor said. 

Advertising the North

Teacher recruitment has been on the territorial government's radar for a few years. Alongside the NWT Teachers' Association and school boards around the territory, the education department created a strategy plan for recruiting teachers.

The plan includes advertising the N.W.T. as a special place to teach with "one of the best benefits packages in all of Canada," and teaching positions in the North as an investment in professional development, said Winsor.

In a job advertisement still open in Inuvik, the salary range is listed between $78,600 and $126,897 — not including the Northern Allowance.

It's a great life, I love it. In fact, if they paid me less, I'd still do it.- Fraser Oliver, NWT Teachers' Association president

By comparison, according to the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, a qualified teacher entering their first year of teaching in the province would earn between $43,057 and $51,079. 

The efforts to attract more teachers North seem to be working.

Yellowknife District No. 1 school board superintendent Metro Huculak said it's had trouble finding qualified French language teachers in the past. 

Starting recruitment in January, he said, has helped fill vacancies, as well as focusing on making new teachers feel welcome.

J. H. Sissons is among the schools in Yellowknife. School board superintendent Metro Huculak says recruitment efforts have helped to fill some of the teaching vacancies. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

"Up here, I have to say — thanks to Education, Culture, and Employment — there's an excellent professional development program," said Huculak.

"I think salaries and benefits match up with what the cost of living is up North here. And we try to provide a lot of supports for our teachers here, so they are successful."

For many teachers, these investments really pay off.

"To be a teacher in the Northwest Territories is fantastic. And if it wasn't, I wouldn't be a teacher for 36 years," said Oliver.

"It's a great life, I love it. In fact, if they paid me less, I'd still do it."

In the Yukon, there are currently 13 teacher vacancies across the territory. A spokesperson from the Department of Education said the positions are in "various stages of recruitment" and are expected to be filled with all schools starting on schedule. 

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