District's job ad seeking uncertified teachers sparks urgent calls to solve B.C.'s shortage of classroom staff

School District 57 in northern B.C. recently posted an advertisement seeking on-call uncertified teachers amid an ongoing shortfall in school staff. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
School District 57 in northern B.C. recently posted an advertisement seeking on-call uncertified teachers amid an ongoing shortfall in school staff. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

A job ad posted by a northern B.C. school district seeking on-call uncertified teachers has intensified calls by parents and teachers for the provincial government to urgently address a shortage of classroom staff.

The advertisement was posted two weeks ago by School District 57, which covers Prince George and the communities of Mackenzie, McBride, Valemount, and Hixon.

"School District 57 is seeking enthusiastic individuals to work on a casual basis as an uncertified teacher on call in our elementary and secondary schools," the ad reads, saying applicants must have experience working with children or teens.

B.C. schools usually require teaching certificates issued by the Ministry of Education, which are granted if applicants have training in education and teaching experience and are deemed fit to work with children.

School District 57
School District 57

Parents and teachers say the ad comes amid an acute shortage of teachers in the province, while the district saw its children affected by school buses being stalled on the first day of school, with disruptions continuing into November.

"The district — and every district around us — has, for a number of years, exhausted the supply of available certified teachers," said Daryl Beauregard, president of the Prince George District Teachers' Association.

"We are simply not either attracting enough teachers to British Columbia … or we are simply not educating enough teachers."

Beauregard says the staffing shortages have been so severe that administrators, including the district superintendent, have had to fill in as teachers.

"There are three different hiring teams out of the board office that are are interviewing candidates continuously, but we just cannot meet the demand," he said. "We really need a provincial strategy."

He estimated that there are about 100 uncertified teachers on call — also called substitute teachers — in the district.

The district employs more than 2,000 people and serves more than 14,700 students, according to its website.

CBC News has contacted the district for comment.

'Continuity of learning'

Laura Weller, chair of the School District 57 Parents' Advisory Council (DPAC), said while the district was trying its hardest to fill the vacancies, the staffing issues would affect the quality of children's education.

"Students are already missing learning support time because support teachers are being pulled to cover absences," she said.

"If you're filling on-call teacher gaps with uncertified teachers, unfortunately, we are probably going to miss students that need extra supports, particularly students that seem to be doing well."

Kristina Little/KCL Photography
Kristina Little/KCL Photography

Weller talked about the need for a "continuity of learning" and that the effects of having teachers rotating regularly would be felt in the long term.

Weller said "you can't blame any one organization" for the issues, but she is hoping to ask officials at an upcoming all-B.C.-DPAC conference about what they are doing to adjust teacher workloads so they can focus on connecting with students.

BCTF asks for loan forgiveness for teachers

Clint Johnston, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said he was aware of uncertified teachers working before but the SD57 advertisement was "highly unusual."

"It would be shocking, I think, in any other profession, if you were hiring individuals who didn't have the specific training for the job," he said.

Johnston said he was aware of vacancies in the teaching education programs around B.C. right now, and that the province wasn't doing enough to attract aspiring teachers.

Clint Johnston/clintjohnstonblog.wordpress.com
Clint Johnston/clintjohnstonblog.wordpress.com

Statistics Canada data from 2020 showed that B.C.'s teachers were the second most poorly compensated as a share of total education spending compared to other provinces, only behind Quebec.

Johnston said a tentative deal struck with the province, promising pay rises, would likely entice some people to choose teaching, but workload remained a huge stumbling block to addressing staff shortages.

He said the province should consider extending loan forgiveness programs to teachers, and to work on reducing the price of housing and cost of living.

A spokesperson for the Education Ministry told CBC News that in "unique circumstances" a school district can employ an uncertified teacher for less than 20 days if certified teachers aren't available.

"The government [has] invested $3.5 million in 2018/19 to create new seats in teacher education programs, adding close to 250 new spaces," the spokesperson said, adding that it is working to speed up certifications for internationally trained educators and reduce certification processing times.