The union representing teachers in B.C. is sounding the alarm on a possible teacher shortage just as the new school year begins.
The B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) said the union has been calling attention to the fact that there will likely be a staffing shortage this school year.
"[COVID-19] has exacerbated a lot of already existing conditions," BCTF president Clint Johnston said on CBC's On the Coast.
"The teacher shortage in B.C. has been growing for quite some time and we are not producing enough teachers in the province for ourselves."
He said inflation and rising cost of living are contributing to the shortage of teachers in B.C.
"In B.C., teacher salaries are the second lowest in Canada, cost of living also range from very high to being almost unaffordable in Metro Vancouver," Johnston said.
"These are the combination of factors that doesn't draw people from other jurisdictions to come here and work here."
The union's most recent collective bargaining agreement expired this summer, Johnston said, but the union has been negotiating with the province and is not considering striking as an option right now.
He said with many educators retiring or making a career change during the pandemic, school districts are facing retention issues.
"We know that students flourish when they have the proper supports to help them achieve the best they can and when you have to pull people and move them around, they're not getting that," Johnston said.
In addition to better wages, Johnston said the union is also fighting for smaller classroom sizes and better working conditions.
He said the staffing shortage is so dire at the moment, one district in the province has opted to search for teachers without certification.
"You're going to see people teaching without certification, and that's really concerning when the year hasn't even started because that's not what the children in K to 12 public education deserve."
Teacher shortages across the country
COVID-19 has been an exasperating factor in staffing shortages across the country.
New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec have all faced challenges in recruiting enough people to work in classrooms.
In B.C., some schools had to temporarily close due to staff absences early this year.
In mid-August, the Ministry of Education acknowledged the shortage as a problem.
"We know that some long-standing pressures remain filling positions in rural and remote areas, as well as for [substitute, on-call teachers] and specialist roles," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education and Child Care said in a statement, which also outlined efforts in recent years to tackle shortages.
These include adding seats in education programs, working to boost the number of Indigenous and French-language teachers, strategizing for rural areas, a new blended learning program at the University of British Columbia and updates to certifying internationally trained teachers and the processing time for teacher certifications overall.
Allyson Jule, chair of the Association of the B.C. Deans of Education and an executive for the Association of Canadian Deans of Education, said with lower wages in B.C. for teachers and higher cost of living, it can be less attractive for new teacher grads to stay in the province.
CBC News reached out to the Ministry of Education and Child Care for comment on what the ministry is doing to support districts that are still in need of teachers, but they did not respond by publication time.