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Labour shortage prompts first Lower Mainland school district to hire uncertified teachers

Chilliwack teachers’ union says the unprecedented move is ‘extremely disruptive’ for students
Children at Promontory Heights Elementary School in 2016. (Chilliwack Progress file)

An acute shortage of teachers in B.C. means some students may soon be faced with a substitute teacher who is unqualified and has no certification.

The hiring of uncertified teachers is nothing new in some northern and more rural communities, but a Chilliwack school district job listing posted in October represents the first time they have been sought in the Lower Mainland.

The union that represents teachers calls the shortage of teachers on call (TOCs) “extremely disruptive to all students,” pointing the finger at the provincial government to address the teacher shortage.

“Chilliwack is the first district in the Lower Mainland to hire uncertified people as TOCs (teachers on call), however, more districts are looking at this as a solution to the teacher shortage crisis,” Chilliwack Teachers’ Association president Danielle Bennett told The Progress.

Bennett said an above average number of positions this year have had no qualified applicants, which means TOCs have to be placed in the positions to ensure students can learn.

“In addition, we have a severe shortage of TOCs which is resulting in a loss of service to our students,” she said, adding that specialist teachers – learning assistance, teacher librarians, music and gym teachers – are being pulled from regular duties to cover classes.

“An elementary class may end up having four or five teachers in one day when their regular classroom teacher is absent and the students who would normally receive support from the specialist teachers do not receive the support they need.”

Bennett added that the proper process for hiring uncertified TOCs is to go through the ministry to get a letter of permission (LOP).

“However, this district has not followed the LOP process. This is the process laid out in the School Act for hiring uncertified people into teaching positions.”

A job posting for uncertified teacher in the district was posted on a B.C. education website on Oct. 4, 2022.

“The Chilliwack School District is seeking highly skilled and dynamic individuals to join our list of Casual Uncertified Teachers Teaching on Call,” it reads.

Preference is to be given to individuals with experience working with children. Applicants need a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, demonstrated interest in working with children and youth, and recent teaching experience is preferred.

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Chilliwack School District superintendent Rohan Arul-pragasam confirmed the teacher shortage and the need to go to uncertified TOCs.

“The district’s preference will always be to have a certified teacher working with students,” he said via email. “The district continues to work to recruit and hire certified teachers aggressively, which includes all current strategies and additional measures to hire and retain certified teachers in the district. All short-term TOCs complete a district mandated training program, including a job shadow with a certified teacher.”

Bennett said since the district has taken this “unprecedented” step, they need to work to support them getting in to a teacher education/professional development program to get them certified.

“The government also needs to do more to address the teacher shortage. This is a province wide issue that requires a comprehensive strategy to ensure our students receive the education they deserve.”

To work as an uncertified teacher, an individual needs a letter of permission (LOP) from the Ministry of Education. According to government statistics obtained by Black Press, the number of LOPs issued in the last decade has increased by 119 per cent.

In the 2012/2013 school year there were 57 LOPs issued in B.C. That was up to 125 last year. Still, a Ministry of Education spokesperson pointed out that the 2021/2022 number of 125 represents just 0.3 per cent of all teachers in the public system.

There was also a large increase in LOPs in 2017 corresponding with an increase in enrolment numbers as well as the restoration of class size language to 2001 levels for Kindergarten to Grade 3 in teacher contracts.

“The tight labour market is a reality for many sectors across BC, including in our K-12 education system,” the spokesperson said. “The Ministry of Education and Child Care is working very closely with partners across the system to address workforce needs.”

with a file from Jane Skrypnek

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