As classes wrap up around Greater Victoria and elsewhere in B.C., teachers worry about the effect on students of a continued shortage of regular and specialized educators. (WikiCommons)

Teacher shortages cause concerns for September

Difficulties filling specialized positions has left many schools scrambling

The school year is just wrapping up, but teachers are already stressing about next year.

According to the B.C. Teachers’ Association, a shortage of classroom teachers, teachers on call (TTOC) and special education teachers around the province is affecting students, including on the Island.

“Despite the fact that we’re the most desirable location in the province, we’re still experiencing teacher shortages,” said Sooke Teachers Association president Ian Johnson. “We’re still experiencing challenges filling positions, and having replacement issues.”

The shortage of TTOCs to cover for absent teachers, and the frequency of redeploying specialist teachers from those roles to fill regular positions prompted the BCTF to file a provincial grievance, which is currently in arbitration.

Filling French immersion and special education positions has reached a point in School District 62 that senior managers have gone outside the province to recruit teachers.

The problem, Johnson said, is the high cost of living on Vancouver Island. “We’re the second-lowest paying province in the country, so people go to Alberta.”

To stem the loss French immersion teachers, the Capital Region’s three school districts have put protection agreements in place to exempt those teachers from being laid off, even if they were temporarily covering for maternity or educational leave, or a sabbatical year.

RELATED: Education minister off to Europe to recruit French teachers

“There was this absolute fear about the challenges of filling French immersion jobs, and the districts didn’t want to see them move to a different province,” Johnson said. “This was rather alarming to us that a large chunk of them aren’t being treated to the same equitable treatment.”

In a release, BCTF president Glen Hansman pointed out that it’s been six months since a government task force on recruitment and retention strategies made recommendations for immediate actions, yet only some of those have been implemented.

“It’s now June 1 and there are still reports of non-certified teachers working in classrooms, students with special needs losing out on their programs or being sent home, and hundreds of classes with class compositions that don’t meet the learning needs of students,” he said.

“While there were some announcements in February to slightly increase [the number of teaching positions], the lack of bold action and provincial co-ordination means the shortage will make the next school year challenging as well.”

RELATED: B.C. school district considers hiring non-teachers to teach

Johnson said locally the number of students identified as having special requirements is “off the charts,” especially those on the autism spectrum. “Those kids have special needs and that’s brand new teachers trying to manage that,” he said, noting that some teachers have been hired without the preferred qualifications for the specialized jobs.

Further complicating SD62’s situation is the geography of the district, which extends from Colwood to Port Renfrew, and the fact baby boomer teachers are nearing retirement.

While 120 new educators were hired across the three districts for the 2017-18 school year, SD62 estimates it will need 14 and 20 more for the coming year to accommodate more than 500 new students.

This huge intake, along with a recent Supreme Court decision to shrink class sizes, has left many schools scrambling.

“Space is a huge challenge for us; we have more portables than I’ve ever seen, we’re shutting down computer labs to make classrooms and teachers are teaching in rooms not really designed for classrooms,” Johnson said.

Mandating smaller class sizes was still a good decision, he added. “The students have had a tremendous benefit. I think everyone won on that one.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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