Desperate for French teachers, Vancouver comes to Toronto to recruit

The Vancouver School Board is in desperate need of French immersion teachers, leading members of the board to make the trek all the way to Toronto to try and recruit new staff.

Shortages in Vancouver are part of a 'chronic' problem nationwide: not enough qualified French teachers

Janis Myers, principal at Laura Secord Elementary School in Vancouver, says she moved to Vancouver from northern Ontario to pursue teaching 20 years ago. Now, her school board is hoping to persuade others to do the same. (CBC News)

The Vancouver School Board (VSB) is hoping that at least a few GTA French teachers are willing to go west and start a new life in British Columbia. 

At the EdTalent Spring Job Fair in Toronto on Friday, the board was one of many hoping to sell teachers on working in their city. In an effort to fill long-standing vacancies, they've also worked to recruit teachers in Ottawa and Quebec.  

Janis Myers, principal at Laura Secord Elementary school in Vancouver, made the trek to B.C. from Ontario herself two decades ago. She says the VSB is in dire need of both French teachers and specialty teachers for programs like technology. 

"We are currently looking to fill quite a few teaching positions," Myers said. "For certain specialty areas, we are offering a $1,500 moving allowance and temporary accommodation, and full time contracts." 

Adding to the crunch in B.C. are the new provincial class size rules adopted last year. The smaller class sizes required the hiring of more than 2,000 teachers across the province. 

Hundreds of teachers and recent graduates of teachers college attended the education career fair at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel in downtown Toronto. (Talia Ricci / CBC News)

Myers is hoping that of the province's 60 school districts, teachers end up tempted by Vancouver. 

"We are the largest French immersion program in British Columbia, so we have a lot of professional development opportunities, a lot of different schools to work in" Myers said.

As of April 11, the VSB had 17 unfilled jobs, including four French immersion teaching positions that were posted last fall and received few qualified applicants.

'Chronic' problem across Canada

Shortages of French teachers aren't limited to Vancouver. 

In 2017, Wendy Carr, associate dean of teacher education at the University of British Columbia, told CBC News that a nation-wide shortage of French teachers was becoming "more and more pressing.

"That shortage of fully prepared French immersion teachers is chronic in Canada," she said at the time. 

The result is Canada-wide competition between school boards, with incentives thrown in to entice teachers to leave their home provinces, sometimes immediately after they graduate from teachers college. 

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada has charted a steady uptick in the number of students enrolled in French immersion over the last seven years.  

Checking out 'all the options'

One teacher considering taking the leap west is Laura King, who recently finished her certification at the University of Windsor.

King says the idea of smaller class sizes in British Columbia is appealing.

"Coming from a school that has very large class sizes, it can be overwhelming to have a class of 30," King said.

She adds the job market is a lot more competitive in southwestern Ontario, which is one of the reasons she wanted to check out the options in B.C. King says the scenery is a bonus too.

"I love nature and the outdoors, and the beautiful weather."