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B.C. hundreds of teachers short, six weeks into semester

Last Updated Oct 15, 2019 at 8:58 am PDT

Students in an art class. GETTY IMAGES/Caiaimage/Robert Daly
Summary

BCTF president Teri Mooring says low wages and a high cost of living are keeping trained teachers away

Contract negotiations between the union and the province are still ongoing

Mooring says the recommendations of a 2017 task force on teacher shortages are not being implemented

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – In the middle of contract negotiations and a media blackout, the BC Teachers’ Federation says the government still isn’t doing enough to attract or retain teachers as students continue to go without.

There were 400 teaching jobs posted on the main online recruitment site in October, according to BCTF president Teri Mooring.

She says low wages and a high cost of living are both pushing and keeping trained teachers away.

“The teacher shortage is everywhere. There isn’t a district that has enough teachers teaching on call to fill their list for all absences that occur,” she explains.

In Surrey this fall, no one even applied for a Second Grade teaching position posted by the district, says Mooring.

“There was a time when a primary position that came up, especially a stray grade, would have been very, very sought after,” she explains.

Wages on the table

B.C. teaching wages have been a sticking point for decades but Mooring says a current North American-wide teacher shortage makes it incredibly difficult to compete with more affordable regions.

“We lose teachers to other jurisdictions because they pay more,” says Mooring.

She doesn’t believe teachers who lose jobs due to cuts in Ontario will be flocking to B.C. because it just doesn’t make sense financially.

“[In B.C.] they’re going to be the second lowest paid teachers nationally and the lowest paid teachers of all the western provinces. They’re probably not going to come and take that significant pay cut,” Mooring says.

The BCTF has been engaged in contract negotiations with the government after a six-year agreement expired in June.

Growing districts

Most school districts are seeing increasing enrollment, save for Vancouver where families are leaving due to unaffordability.

However, every single school district, says Mooring, is under pressure and short instructors.

“In Langley, Coquitlam, Richmond, all these other places that are actually expensive as well, we are seeing an increase in student enrollment generally,” she says.

The approach to dealing with the issue in Vancouver, says Mooring, is to remove specialty teachers, librarians, counselors and support staff to back fill in classrooms.

In rural and northern areas, Mooring says there are hundreds of uncertified teachers working on letters of permission.

What to do?

In 2017, the Minister’s Task Force on Immediate Recruitment and Retention Challenges was tasked with verifying the extent of the shortage at that time and recommending actions to improve it.

Made up of representatives from school districts, teachers, post-secondary institutions, the BCTF, British Columbia Public School Employers’ Association and ministry staff, the group made a series of recommendations.

  • Establish a Province-Wide Recruitment and Retention Fund
  • Develop Regional Profiles and Recruitment Strategies
  • Increase Support and Capacity for School Districts’ Human Resources
  • Increase the Number of Graduates in Positions under Pressure
  • Promote Rural Practica Placements
  • Support Teacher Mentorship

 

Especially in the north and the interior, says Mooring, the recommendations are not being implemented.

While the NDP did remove restrictions on the number of post secondary spaces for teacher training, the teachers are needed right now.

Mooring says frustrated or concerned parents need to engage with their MLAs, talk to district administration and push for a focus on recruitment.

There are other reports that government has round the teacher shortage that haven’t been released yet