School districts challenged to fill substitute teacher list

Principals, vice-principals and support teachers taking on additional duties in Nanaimo

A lack of substitute teachers is placing pressure on schools, according to Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association.

Nanaimo school district is challenged to hire enough substitute teachers to fill its teachers teaching on call, or TTOC, roster.

Last month, superintendent-designate Scott Saywell told the education committee that there had been a failure to fill just about every day for teachers teaching on call “in the last little while” and that the district is still recruiting teachers.

There’s been a provincewide push to hire more teachers as a result of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on class size and composition and some school districts have faced challenges with recruitment and retention, such as in finding substitute teachers, a B.C. government press release from earlier this year shows. In a survey, 54 school districts also identified some difficulty finding and retaining learning assistance teachers, librarians, counsellors, as well as French, senior science and math teachers, said the release, which was for a funding announcement for an additional 100 teacher training spaces for the highest-demand fields.

Saywell said the district, for the most part, is OK for teachers in classrooms; where it’s challenged is filling in for teachers who are absent due to illness, professional development or because they need to take a prep day.

He points to the court ruling as part of the reason for the difficulty. It’s meant more than 100 new positions in this school district and 3,500 provincewide, he said, and it puts everyone in the same boat.

The district also filled most of its new teacher positions with substitute teachers, which depleted its roster. He also said more teachers retired last year, and there’s increasing student enrolment.

“We would never typically have a failure to fill in the past. It’d be a few times a year during flue season or something. But in the past we’ve always been able to maintain our TTOC roster at a level that wouldn’t see any failure to fill,” said Saywell, who says now a failure to fill for teacher absences is happening a number of times each week.

Some teachers are called back on their prep day as a result, or vice-principals or principals take on classrooms.

Saywell also said five years ago, someone would be on the TTOC list for years and now people are moving into full-time positions more quickly, which depletes the TTOC roster faster.

The district, which is still recruiting, is not offering incentives currently to lure teachers, but it is is talking about it and starting to look at hiring people still in education programs, according to Saywell, who adds the district has done presentations at VIU, as an example, to get teachers excited about working in Nanaimo as opposed to moving back to where they’re from.

Denise Wood, NDTA president, called the failure to fill with substitute teachers a big issue happening not just in this school district, but across the province because there are not enough teachers available. She says the school district is reassigning support teachers to cover absences, but it means they aren’t doing the job they’re supposed to of teaching kids with special needs.

She also said if the school district isn’t in compliance with the collective agreement language, it has to provide extra release time for teachers and secondary teachers have prep time but neither is happening because there aren’t enough TTOCs.

“So teachers are losing some of their contractual rights because there are not enough TTOCs,” said Wood.

The NDTA recently touched on the issue of teachers teaching on call at an education meeting and is speaking with senior management, but Wood said the situation is not entirely the fault of the district; there just aren’t enough people and everyone is competing for TTOCs.

“It’s a challenge and it will be a challenge next year as well,” she said. “The government has announced funding to create more spaces for teachers in teacher training, but those teachers won’t be available to the system for a couple more years.

“I mean, post-secondaries are graduating teachers, we just need them a little bit faster than they’re graduating right now.”



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