There's a shortage of substitute teachers at Island schools
'As a teacher, you want to have the best possible person in here when you're not here'
Some Island teachers say a shortage of substitutes is putting a strain on staff.
Bethany MacLeod, president of the Prince Edward Island Teachers' Federation, says teachers are coming in sick and missing medical appointments because of the shortage.
"We are hearing cases where administrators are filling in for part of the day, or adjusting schedules to ensure that classes are covered," MacLeod said. "This puts great pressure on the administrators and teachers."
She said teachers are also missing out on professional development activities, because there aren't enough suitable replacements available to cover for them.
"It means I have to figure it out on my own, or ask other teachers," said Colonel Gray High School teacher Greg Chandler.
He was hoping to take advantage of a professional development session this week, but after more than a dozen phone calls to substitutes, couldn't find anyone to fill in for him.
Chandler said when he started out as a substitute teacher in 2009, there wasn't always a lot of work. But with the growing population and the growing needs of students, more teachers have been hired, depleting the pool of substitute teachers, and that's not an ideal scenario for students or staff.
"As a teacher, you want to have the best possible person in here when you're not here," Chandler said.
As a teacher, you want to have the best possible person in here when you're not here— Greg Chandler
"If you don't know who is coming or you can't get a sub covered, it can really affect the learning of the students and the flow of the class and any sort of schedule you've set for yourself and your students."
For Island substitute teachers, the shortage represents consistency and job security that haven't always been a part of the role. Morgan Hennessey has been at it for several years, and says, these days, it's nice to know the work is there.
Hennessey believes that education graduates are increasingly choosing not to stay on the Island, and leaving in search of better opportunities elsewhere.
"I think, unfortunately, in the past few years job prospects for teachers have not looked the best, and so I think a lot are getting out of the game and I think a lot of substitute teachers are looking for other things," Hennessey said. "Those of us who are staying in and staying committed, I guess now we are reaping the benefits."
Invest in the substitutes for the future
Hennessey believes the uncertainty of substitute teaching is part of the problem, and said establishing a minimum of weekly hours for substitute teachers could encourage more people, especially recent graduates, to stick around.
Parker Grimmer, director of the Public Schools Branch, says the shortage isn't limited to substitute teachers — there's also an increased demand for administrators, bus drivers, custodians and others. He said the problem is complex.
We don't have all the answers but we know that by having conversations with people and discussing and listening that we may get some answers.— Parker Grimmer
"We don't have all the answers but we know that by having conversations with people and discussing and listening that we may get some answers and there may be ways that we partner further with universities, and with pre-service teachers, to co-operate in this way to solve this."
He said schools across Canada are facing similar shortages, and looking at new ways to retain substitute teachers, like the idea of hiring a specific sub for each school or a group of schools.
Grimmer said the province continues to create new positions for Island teachers, and every change has rippled effects that take time to identify and address.
"Those new employees had to come from somewhere and in many cases they came from our substitute pool," he said.
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Grimmer said a lot of effort it put into connecting with UPEI students in the education program, and he believes plenty is done to support recent graduates here on PEI.
"When we go out to talk to pre-service teachers our message is, we're excited they've made this choice, we look forward to working with them and we need them."
Working conditions a shared responsibility
The teachers' federation says addressing the shortage is a shared responsibility.
We need to better co-ordinate these events to reduce the stress on the supply of substitute teachers.— Bethany MacLeod
"All stakeholders — the department, the boards, and the union — would have reasons to have teachers out, whether it be for in-service, training, or meetings." MacLeod said.
"We need to better co-ordinate these events to reduce the stress on the supply of substitute teachers."
She said negotiations for a new collective agreement with the province and substitute teachers will soon be underway, and working conditions for all teachers will be among the topics of discussion.
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With files from John Robertson