Lower Mainland schools still resorting to uncertified teachers amid shortage

As Lower Mainland schools face a dire teachers shortage, industry professionals say parents and other uncertified individuals continue to be asked to cover classes.

Clint Johnston, president of the BC Teachers Federation, says the industry is in dire straits and all avenues are being exhausted to ensure kids can stay in classrooms.

“Often, if there’s a shortage in the school and there’s a parent they knows who’s willing to work in the school and cover a classroom and watch the children for a day, they do that,” Johnston said.

“There’s schools that are considering whether or not they can open in September each year, and that’s not good enough for the kids in B.C.”

In 2023, there were 303 uncertified teachers employed across the province, according to the province’s Ministry of Education.

However, Johnston says that number only accounts for the individuals who received a letter of permission, which they only receive if they taught 20 days straight.

“There are also uncertified individuals working on a day-to-day basis or short-term who will not be caught up in that number,” he explained.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are a lot more uncertified teachers working around the province working than that number indicates.”

According to a statement from the Vancouver School Board, it did not send any letters of permission in 2022, 2023 or 2024. In fact, it says more than 500 staff have been hired since May 2023 and recruitment is ongoing. While there are a number of different individuals within the school who can be asked to cover in the event of an absence, the board states it “maintains very high standards to ensure students have the best qualified staff to support their success.”

But in other Metro Vancouver districts, the numbers tell a slightly different story.

In Chilliwack, the Board of Education says in a statement it has between 40 and 50 uncertified instructors supporting its certified on-call teachers. It adds all of the uncertified on-call teachers have a four year degree or equivalent and only work on day-to-day assignments.

About an hour west, the Langley School District says in a statement it currently employs 25 uncertified instructors to meet existing demands.

Johnston says while he has a lot of respect for the individuals who are willing to step in for staff, it’s not a permanent solution.

“There’s a reason teachers in B.C. get five years of post-secondary education at a minimum, and that’s to ensure they know how to support children to achieve the most they can,” he said.

He adds when students don’t have that, it impacts their learning. And the students who require the most support are the ones who suffer the most.

Overall, Johnston says the industry is at this breaking point because of a couple of factors.

“We’re having trouble bringing people in because it’s a hard job that could be paid better and we’re having trouble keeping them in when they have to struggle in a system like this,” he said.

“An increase in salary would support more individuals choosing the profession and staying in it.”

While he says it’s encouraging to see the provincial Ministry of Education take action on the issue with a workforce to address the shortage, it’s all coming a little too late.

“It’s unfortunate it got to such a dire situation before there were some concrete moves made.”

Next, he’d like to see the ministry lay out a concrete strategy and funding to move B.C.’s schools into a better position to support their teachers and students.

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