Six weeks into the school year, some teacher positions in northern Saskatchewan are still unfilled.
Ten teaching positions are still open throughout the Northern Lights School Division (NLSD), which includes schools in remote areas throughout northern Saskatchewan. The vacancies include three open teacher positions at Sandy Bay’s Hector Thiboutot Community School.
Jason Young, NLSD director of education, said that while the number of vacant teaching positions has gone down from the start of the school year, many classes are still missing permanent teachers.
“We’re still averaging 10 positions – what we’re needing to fill right now is 10,” said Young.
“I would describe this right now as an anomaly. It is unusually high. In the past, we may have needed a few teachers to start, but to have this many is an anomaly. It’s right throughout the school division – everywhere from La Loche to far north in Stony Rapids to Sandy Bay, even in La Ronge.”
While the posts remain open, other staff, including administrators, have stepped in to teach classes without permanent teachers.
“A resource teacher, who normally is an out-of-classroom position, is in front of the class teaching. We have vice principals who were assigned to administration time, who are now teaching full-time in a class to fill the vacancies. They’ve done a great job to help out in this challenging time,” said Young.
In the past, NLSD has used teachers from Atlantic Canada and Ontario to fill open posts. However, Young said candidates from those areas have mostly chosen to stay near home. He feels that the shortage is not just an isolated instance, and said other areas across Canada have also seen school staff and teacher shortages.
“I’ve had conversations with people from BC, where there have been policy changes around teacher-student ratios, which means they need more teachers. I’ve also heard concerns about the far north, like in Nunavut, and the challenges of filling teaching positions up there. It seems, to me and to my observations, that it’s not just within our system but something that’s been seen within the teaching sector altogether.”
The news from NLSD is not all negative. Several schools, including Charlebois School in Cumberland House, are now fully staffed. Young said Charlebois has taken advantage of the former Northern Teachers Education Program (NORTEP) and related classes from Northlands College, created after NORTEP was cancelled last year.
“We were able to land local teachers who were locally trained,” said Young.
“We had a few vacancies at Cumberland House – I think it was about five or six vacancies – and those vacancies were filled by candidates who were graduates of the NORTEP program. The NORTEP program was very beneficial to the school division, in terms of training and grooming local teachers. We had a cohort from Cumberland House and we were able to select a number of teachers from that NORTEP cohort to fill vacancies this year. We’re very grateful that happened.”
Young said a key part in solving the existing shortages in some communities, including Sandy Bay, would be having capable local candidates for the open jobs.
“I think if we had more locally trained teachers in the Sandy Bay area, we would be in a position to employ them and possibly be completely staffed. That’s something we’re looking to the future with, in regards to a recruitment-retention strategy,” he said.
Meanwhile, jobs are still open and Young is unsure if they will be filled in the next few months.
“I’d like to give a deadline where all our positions are full, but at the same time, we want to be selective as to who we’re employing within the division. It has to be the right fit for us,” he said.
“We want to make sure we have the best candidates who meet our criteria and the needs of our communities and students. That could take longer as a result and that’s what we may have to do.”