A critical shortage of substitute teachers in Nova Scotia may lead to subs without teaching licences filling the gaps. Meanwhile, principals are being asked to help mitigate the problem, including by being stringent on approving unpaid leave.
Education Minister Zach Churchill said the substitute shortage is a direct result of a large number of recent full-time hires removing people from the substitute pool.
“We are tackling this with our boards and our BEd providers,” Churchill said. “We have a number of tripartite agreements now with boards and unions to allow either student teachers or other qualified subject-matter experts to come in and relieve some of the pressure in the system.”
Liette Doucet, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said she was only aware of two agreements, one with the Tri-County school board and the other with the francophone board, the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial.
“As far as I know, especially the French board, we’ve had an agreement between the board, us and the government for the past several years,” Doucet said. “And I believe Tri-County, it’s been at least a few (years). So those are not new. They’ve always had difficulty, especially when you talk about specialty areas like French and rural areas.”
Doug Hadley, spokesman for the Halifax Regional School Board, confirmed the board is looking at that solution.
“We’ve made both parties (NSTU & EECD) aware of our interest to secure a tripartite agreement to allow non-licence holders to substitute,” he said in an email. “For now we’ve kept it to specific subject areas like French and specialized music, but we will continue to monitor the supply and demand for substitutes to determine if a further agreement is necessary. We are awaiting response.”
Doucet said it’s certainly possible that it may be in the works but has not yet come to the union executive for approval. She said if the NSTU does get a request for a tripartite agreement from HRSB, the executive will look at it.
“It is something that is done as a last resort. It’s something that is by agreement by the three parties involved and it’s a short-term solution.”
Churchill also said the department is working with the province’s school boards to ensure that professional development days that take teachers out of class are better co-ordinated.
PD days are touched upon in an email sent to principals from Susan Tomie, director of school administration for the HRSB, containing several “reminders that may assist you in managing this situation.” A printed copy of the email was sent anonymously to The Chronicle Herald.
The email reminds principals that unpaid leave requests are discretionary and the availability of substitutes should be taken into account when granting them. It also suggests that principals make teachers aware of the shortages during staff meetings to manage expectations.
The email says principals can reduce staffing strain related to board-based voluntary PD opportunities by using strategies to manage how many teachers may be attending a PD session at the same time. It suggests sending a few teachers who could then share the information with others when they return. It also says that a principal has the discretion to deny requests to extend days off to attend conferences beyond the three days allowed.
The email also encourages administrators to post teacher absences on the automated substitute booking program AESOP instead of trying to contact substitutes directly.
The education minister said the biggest need remains in the subjects of math and French and the government is looking to address that shortfall in the future.
“We are working directly with our BEd programs for the long term to ensure that the grads that we’re producing from those programs are aligned with the need in the sector as well,” he said.
Hadley said the HRSB is also coping with a depleted substitute pool due to the addition of close to 275 teaching positions this year.
“We’ve acknowledged with our schools — and we want to keep them up to date — that it is something that we’re working on on a daily basis, but there are things they need to consider and things they can manage at the school level,” Hadley said.
Doucet isn’t buying that it’s all about rosy job prospects.
“I know that New Brunswick has recruited teachers from Nova Scotia and you have to ask yourself why that’s happening, why teachers are willing to leave Nova Scotia to go somewhere else to substitute or to teach,” she said.
“You have to look at the way teachers have been treated. Have they been treated fairly by this government? They have not. Have they been paid a fair wage, have they received an increase that is fair? They have not. And have classroom conditions been dealt with? Those have not either. So when you look at all the conditions right now in Nova Scotia, it’s likely that teachers would look elsewhere.”