School resumed on time on Aug. 15 at Nunavik’s 18 public schools, despite a shortage of teaching staff.
The Kativik Ilisarniliriniq school board is still looking to fill 77 vacant teaching positions, according to Jade Bernier, a spokesperson for the school board.
Of those positions, there are 63 vacancies for second-language (English or French) teachers, 29 of whom would be home room teachers. There are also 14 vacancies for Inuktitut positions.
The school board employs 530 teachers.
The number of vacancies at the beginning of each school year fluctuates. There were 37 vacancies in 2018, a five-year high of 84 in 2019, a five-year low of 12 in 2020, and then 51 in 2021.
Sarah Aloupa, president of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, said there are a number of factors that lead to teacher recruitment and retention challenges, including the high cost of living, limited housing options and isolation in a new, more remote environment.
“Some come and have culture shock, and want to go home the next day,” she said.
Kativik Ilisarniliriniq is still actively recruiting teachers for this school year. The school board recently posted a list of vacant positions it is actively trying to fill, including vice-principals in some schools.
Aloupa said the school board offers benefits that include housing, travel, cargo and retention bonuses. Those benefits were extended to include locally hired Inuit staff this year after the union and the school board reached a new collective agreement.
“We have a very good offer for teachers who come to teach a second language,” Aloupa said, referring to teachers who provide English or French instruction. “We have done a lot to try to have non-Inuit apply to our schools.”
To manage the the shortage, Nunavik’s schools are recruiting community members locally who can act as substitute teachers, merging classrooms when possible, offering teaching roles to behavioural technicians and teacher trainees, and asking retirees and former teachers if they might be interested in filling in on a temporary basis.
Overall, Aloupa is optimistic about a good school year, despite the vacancies. There were no delays getting schools open, and summer renovation projects at schools in Salluit, Puvirnituq and Inukjuak were completed on schedule during the summer.
In regards to COVID-19, masks are no longer mandatory, but Aloupa said students are still encouraged to listen to public health advice, wear a mask and practise social distancing.
Aloupa also had a beginning of the year message to parents and students.
For the parents: visit your local schools, meet the teachers and support your children as they get back into the busy academic year.
And for students: ask your teachers questions if you need help with anything.
“Asking questions is the answer to all of your problems,” Aloupa said.
David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News