As school gets underway, the shortage of teachers and support staff has affected Nunavik as much, if not more, than Nunavut to the north.
"What we're living through now is dramatic," said Daniel Charest from the Association of Employees of Northern Quebec, the union that represents teachers and support staff in Nunavik. Charest, who used to be a teacher in Quaqtaq, is responsible for teachers in Nunavik and for collective bargaining negotiations.
"You could be in a school at the beginning of the academic year and you're missing four teachers. The school opens, but it doesn't work very well."
According to figures provided by Nunavik's Kativik Ilisarniliriniq school board, as of Aug. 16, there were 77 vacant teaching positions out of a total of 502.
That's compared to August 2021, when there were 51 vacancies or August 2018 when there were only 37 vacancies.
The school board is trying to minimize the impact of the teacher shortage on students, said Joseph Denis-Pelletier, a public relations officer with the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq.
These measures include local recruitment of substitute teachers and offering teaching positions to classroom assistants, called "behaviour technicians," and to teacher trainees.
Recruiters have also contacted former employees and retirees to see if they would be available to fill in on a temporary basis, Denis-Pelletier said.
Classrooms are also being merged where possible, he said.
Perks on offer
Recruitment is tough although Nunavik teachers get perks that Nunavut teachers do not.
For employees recruited outside Nunavik (defined as more than 50 kilometres away from their place of employment), the school board offers three round-trips per year, to full-time employees and their dependents, to their community of employment.
In the case of employees recruited in Nunavik, the benefit is calculated on the value of transportation from their place of residence in Nunavik to Montreal, Denis-Pelletier said.
"This new administrative measure will allow the people of Nunavik to opt for reimbursement of their expenses for an outing on the land to go hunting or fishing, up to an amount equivalent to transportation from their place of residence in Nunavik to Montreal," he said.
But the union says that even with those perks, it's becoming harder to bring in teachers from southern Quebec, particularly to teach in the French stream, which most students opt for after Inuktitut instruction phases out in Grade 4.
As of Grade 4, instruction is given in either second-language English or French, and Inuktitut continues to be taught as a subject.
But the majority of people who now teach in the French-language stream come from outside Quebec and most have no formal teaching experience, Charest said.
Overall, new hires are young: few with young families are willing to enrol their own young children in the Inuktitut education stream, or enrol older children with classmates who are just beginning to learn in English or French.
As in Nunavut, teachers who are qualified can benefit from a variety of educational opportunities through a professional improvement fund.
But between 35 per cent to 45 per cent of those who do end up teaching in Nunavik classrooms are not qualified, he said.
Due to the shortage of housing, schools often hire individuals who are in the community — say, spouses of a construction worker — on short-term contracts because they have housing already.
Larger communities and those with stable school leaders tend to fare better in finding and keeping teachers, Charest said.
But 30 per cent to 40 per cent leave every year, creating instability, he said.
Not surprisingly, the number of graduates is down, while the number of dropouts has increased.
To support teachers, the union is planning a tour of all communities in the fall, Charest said.