HRSB’s Teacher shortage may be tip of the iceberb

Well, this is rather novel.

Last week, it was revealed rather publically that the Halifax Regional School Board, the largest in Nova Scotia, was, as of September 5th, still looking to fill upward of 30 French Immersion teaching positions. It was also indicted that if no qualified applicants could be found,  some teachers who were qualified for French might have to be moved out of their current positions to fill the gaps.

Although the shuffling of staff is perhaps not uncommon in other sectors, the time and effort required to prepare for a school year is significant, to say the least. For many, it requires weeks, if not months, of preparation. To be told on the 5th or 6th of September that you have to accomplish that same feat in a few days would be well North of stressful.

Now, considering my penchant of late, it very well be expected that I would lay the blame for this kerfuffle directly at the feet of the Liberal government. However, as much as I may malign their approach to collective non-bargaining, I can’t give them all the credit for this one.

Because, like it or not, teachers are currently in very short supply.

This is quite a departure from 10 years ago. At that time, there were far more teachers than there were jobs. But by 2013, the spectre of a potential world-wide teacher shortage was beginning to emerge, even in the midst of calls for education institutions to lower the number of graduates, By 2015, it became clear that there was a crisis looming, as jurisdictions from across the globe began to report massive shortages. In the UK, for example, teacher colleges were consistently missing recruitment targets, despite offering bursaries of $45,000 to graduates. In the US, some areas began the 2014 school year with upwards of 500 vacant teaching positions.

This year, it seems the trend is continuing. According to a recent Washington Post report, every state in America is being impacted by a nation-wide teacher shortage, with some experts predicting that the number of teachers needed could top 100,000 by 2018.  The UK is faring no better, where the teacher shortage has already reached what many are considering “crisis” proportions.  Here at home, BC school districts were still looking to fill hundreds of positions in late August of this year.

Now, as differing as these jurisdictions are geographically, the reasons why there are no teachers are strikingly similar. Increasing workload, deteriorating classrooms, and ever changing accountability measures have combined to create a perfect storm for shortages. With many veteran teachers burning out and many younger teachers leaving the profession within the first five years, one need hardly wonder why there are recruitment shortages. What was once a very attractive profession for our young graduates undoubtedly looks much less appealing today than it did ten years ago.

There is  another side to this equation. For those young people who do choose to spend the necessary 5 plus years required to become a teacher, the world, essentially, is their oyster. In many cases, a teaching certificate from Nova Scotia in, say, secondary Science, allows our young people to have their pick of jobs in any number of exotic locations worldwide. Locations that are crying for teachers and are actively and aggressively recruiting.

Although not quite at crisis proportions here at home, there is certainly cause for concern. As more of our young teachers are scooped up by the province’s largest board, rural boards, already traditionally hard to staff, will suffer. The 2017-2018 school year will also undoubtedly see a tremendous shortage of supply teachers, many of whom have now been hired to fill the growing need. If replacement teachers are not available when teachers are ill, those within the buildings will find themselves more often asked to cover classes. This will, understandably, lead to higher teacher burnout, and undoubtedly more sick days being taken, thus leading to a need for more replacement teachers…

You get the picture.

I said I wasn’t going to lay blame for this at the feet of the McNeil Liberals, and I won’t. To suggest that our current situation is the result of the actions of one government versus a steady deterioration in the profession would be indefensible. However, I do lay the responsibility for fixing the problem squarely on their shoulders. Although HRSB has, by all accounts, managed to plug the holes, the fix is only temporary, and the problem, potentially just the tip of the iceberg.

The image of teachers marching in the streets in protest has done little for Nova Scotia’s reputation as an attractive destination for young educators. And with so many jurisdictions now competing for our own graduates, the need for a solid recruitment and retention plan for teachers has never been more pressing.

However, if the warning signs are ignored, it may not just be a lack of doctors that we, as a province, have to worry about.

Originally published in The Chronicle Herald, September 13th, 2017.

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