When Megan Ansems received an email from Nova Scotia’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development this spring with her teacher’s license number, you could say she was thrilled.
“I was about to get that number tattooed on my arm,” said Ansems, who graduated from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax this spring with a Bachelor of Education.
Ansems, who focused on math and science in high school, got her career off to a flying start when Nova Scotia gave early certification to nearly 300 teacher candidates just about to graduate so they could fill in as substitute teachers during a new wave. of COVID-19.
A shortage of teachers and certified substitutes to fill in for them emerged as a major disruption to Canadian classrooms in previous waves of the pandemic, and is expected to continue this fall. But there is a new cohort of new educators, like Ansems, looking to fill the gaps in the coming school year, especially after many have seen firsthand how much they need in recent years.
However, some face obstacles – both new and pre-pandemic – in getting stable work in the classroom.
Ansems now works at a summer camp in Kentville, NS, waiting for teaching applications she has sent out, but is also preparing to return to daily substitute teaching.
“I’m excited to go back to the school board and sign up for September, October, as long as they want me,” she said.
‘I’m so close, but I still can’t get that job or that dream’
In Ontario, where a near-graduating teacher program awarded temporary certification, Chelsey Brassard also had a busy spring school substitute.
After applying for temporary certification during her senior semester at the University of Ottawa in January, she received approval in May — having already completed her program and graduated. With that under her belt, Brassard said she was called up as a teacher every school day until the end of June.
However, by mid-August Brassard does not yet have permanent status, despite having graduated. She says she has paid fees to the provincial teacher certification body and has submitted her documentation multiple times; she started the process as early as 2021 because she expected delays.
Brassard is eligible to work as a daily on-call worker under the temporary certificate until it expires in December, but she believes she will be held back without permanent status.
“Some schools will hire you, provided you get your full license before it expires. Some schools have said, ‘We don’t want to take that risk,'” she said.
“[It’s] really frustrating to see now that I’m so close, but I still can’t get that job or that dream.”
In a statement to CBC News, the Ontario College of Teachers said most of the delays were due to “incomplete applications” and applications are processed within 30 business days.
“The college cannot begin reviewing an application until we receive a complete application, including all required documents and applicable fees. In nearly all cases, certification delays are related to incomplete applications,” a spokesperson said.
“We expect Ontario graduates to be certified in the spring of 2022 in the coming weeks.”
Joel Westheimer, a professor of education at the University of Ottawa, said he is concerned about the roadblocks for new teachers at a time of “an almost unprecedented teacher shortage in Ontario and many other provinces in Canada.”
“What I don’t want to see is young teachers being rejected or getting themselves out of line to become teachers because they’re just too frustrated with the process,” said Westheimer, the university’s research chair in democracy and education.
The goal should be “to get people from teacher training to classrooms as quickly and smoothly as possible,” he added.
Several factors contribute to teacher shortages
In different locations, different factors can prevent teachers from getting into classrooms they need, and it’s a complicated issue that deserves attention, said Allyson Jule, president of the Association of the BC Deans of Education and a director of the Association of Canadian Deans. of Education.
“The teacher shortage is a major crisis for the country,” she said.
In BC, for example, after a historic Supreme Court decision regarding BC’s class size in 2016, the number of classroom teachers needed skyrocketed. At the same time, Jule said, teachers in BC earn lower wages on average than their counterparts in other provinces, while also juggling high costs for housing, food and other necessities.
It may then be less attractive for new teachers to stay in the province, even when they are desperately needed, Jule explains.
Looking more broadly, teacher shortages are a chronic challenge for many rural, remote and indigenous communities across the country, she said.
Lack of housing is a major factor in some areas. For others, it is the unpredictable work environment for occasional/substitute teachers.
Jule also noted that with most education programs in urban centers, many who are interested in teaching but live far from major cities have to leave their home communities to access training. Then they don’t always come back after graduation.
Two avenues she would like to see more explored are programs that combine distance and personal studies and, in general, expand teacher training places.
‘It’s a complex problem. It won’t have simple solutions’
The BC Ministry of Education and Child Care acknowledged that it has a shortage in some parts of the province.
“We know that some long-standing pressures are still filling vacancies in rural and remote areas, as well as for [substitute, on-call teachers] and specialist roles,” a spokesperson said in a statement that also outlines efforts made in recent years to address shortages.
These include adding seats to curricula, working to increase the number of native and French-speaking teachers, strategies for rural areas, a brand new blended learning program at the University of British Columbia and updates on certifying internationally trained teachers and the processing time for teacher certifications in general.
Jule said she believes finding solutions will require everyone — school boards, teacher unions, ministries of education, governing bodies, teacher education institutions — to come together to explore and address the many reasons behind pandemic-related and chronic teacher shortages.
“It’s a complex problem. It won’t have easy solutions. It needs in-depth discussions that are underway.”
Back in Nova Scotia, Ansems said she’s optimistic for the fall, but she also checks her email for the paper certificate confirming her as a teacher. She expects she may need it if she signs up to teach outside the province.
In a statement, the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development told CBC News that, with a few exceptions, “teachers who receive conditional certification in the spring are permanent in Nova Scotia” and that a mailed license number serves as ” confirmation of their permanent certification.”
“It’s one of the things where it’s, ‘Am I really a teacher if I don’t have this special piece of paper?'” Ansems said.
“But a lot [my friends] have found a job, are super excited for the school year and we are all very, very excited to be in class in September.”