Some recent teaching program graduates say they are facing significant delays in receiving their certificates from the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT), leaving them worried about securing permanent employment come September.
Chelsey Brassard, who graduated from the University of Ottawa's education program in April, said she started her application for certification in May of 2021, while she was still a student.
Almost a year later, the OCT issued her a temporary certificate, an emergency measure to address teacher shortages caused by COVID-19. It is set to expire in December. Brassard wants to find a permanent teaching job, but she says she can't do so with the temporary certificate.
"Without this full certificate, it's kind of stopping my dreams. It's stopping my career from taking off," Brassard said. "It's really just putting a damper on my future."
Brassard said she called to inquire about her application multiple times, but would be waiting on hold for three or four hours before getting through to a representative.
When she received her temporary certificate in May, Brassard said she reached out to schools looking for emergency supply teaching positions, and saw first hand how high the demand for teachers is.
"I was called every single day from May and June," she said.
Taylor Harnden also recently graduated from the University of Ottawa's education program, and started her application to be certified in December of 2021. She received a temporary certificate in May.
"My process with the OCT has been very, very frustrating from the get-go, and at times worrying," she said.
Harnden said she faced issues with her application and was at first told her degree, a relatively new program with Algonquin College, wasn't recognized by the OCT.
Despite calling multiple times and waiting for hours before speaking with a representative, Harnden said the information she received was confusing and sometimes contradictory.
"It's just frustrating because they're telling you not to call. But then when you call, you do get an answer and they have answers for you, but they're all mixed messages," she said.
These delays have also been a financial concern for Harnden, who said not having her full certificate has hampered her job search.
Contributes to teacher shortage
Delays in OCT applications are increasingly common, said Joel Westheimer, a professor in the social foundations of education at the University of Ottawa and an education columnist for CBC Radio.
He said he's been hearing the application process has been "incredibly frustrating" for many prospective teachers who spend hours on hold, and are unable to get a response to their emails.
"It's a little like calling the phone company," he said, adding he's concerned about teachers feeling disrespected by the entire process.
These delays are coming at a time when the need for teachers is "enormous," Westheimer explained.
"We have a teacher shortage. We're coming out of the pandemic. We desperately need new and energetic and enthusiastic teachers. We're now using tons of temporary teachers filling spots that should be filled by certified teachers," he said.
It's difficult to even determine the numbers of the current demand for certified teachers, he added.
A spokesperson from the college said they have been receiving a "much higher-than-normal volume" of documents, calls and emails, and are working to bring wait times back to normal including through increased staffing.
Between Jan. 1 and June 1, 2022, the college said it certified more than 3,000 Ontario graduates, including temporary certificates.
The college said all certificate applications are being processed within 30 business days of required documents being received, and they anticipate this year's spring graduates will be certified in the coming weeks.
CBC reached out to the Ottawa Catholic School Board and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to inquire about teaching position vacancies for the upcoming school year.
Both boards said staff that would normally be able to facilitate the request are not available because they are currently on vacation.