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New teachers used to leave Ontario due to job shortages. Here’s why boards are struggling to fill positions | CBC News

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What a difference a decade has made in the supply of elementary and secondary school teachers in northeastern Ontario and across Canada.

To find work when there was a shortage of jobs, teachers used to leave the province; now, school boards in the northeast say they have plenty of openings and are developing new recruiting strategies.

As they work to hire permanent teachers, boards say, they’re resorting to hiring student teachers on transitional certificates or people without teaching certificates to fill the gap.

In some cases, students have more study halls — what administrators call self-directed learning.

Graydon Raymer, dean of the faculty of education and professional studies for Nipissing University in North Bay, said many factors are contributing to the current teacher shortage.

Graydon Raymer, dean of education for Nipissing University, says retirements and the switch to a two-year Bachelor of Education program are some of the reasons behind the teacher shortage. (Supplied by Graydon Raymer)

Raymer cites retirements, in part due to changing conditions in the classroom as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that have cut into the workforce. He also said the switch to a two-year Bachelor of Education (BEd) program has stemmed the flow of new teachers.

Raymer said that in 2011, when the BEd was eight months, Nipissing graduated about 700 students from the program.

He said after Ontario extended the program to two years in 2012-2013, about 400 or so teachers were graduating each year.

While Raymer said fewer teachers are graduating, he’s concerned about the quality of the training if the BEd reverts to a one-year program 

Raymer said some northern school boards have reached out about their struggles in finding qualified teachers and wonder if Nipissing could educate more of them. 

He said the university has responded by providing flexible online learning

That doesn’t necessarily mean teachers who graduate from Nipissing and are certified will remain in northern Ontario, Raymer said.

He said it’s often difficult to get schools in the north to host students, even though that often leads to them making connections in those communities.

“You know, we face challenges finding those placement positions — finding the schools that have the teachers who have the time and capacity to take on a student to come and work with them in the classroom, and there’s just so few spots within our region.” 

Although he doesn’t have a firm number, he suspects a large number of graduates move out of the region to teach.

A woman with long dark hair and brown eyes stands against a grey brick wall. She is wearing a black shirt and jacket.
Nimra Noman is a former federal political staffer who is about to graduate from Nipissing University to start a second career as a teacher. (Supplied by Nimra Noman)

Financial considerations are top of mind for at least a couple of Nipissing students who are set to graduate and become teachers in the next few weeks.

My colleagues and some of my friends who are from the northern areas, they do mention that as soon as they have their degree there, they pretty much have a [teaching] job.– Nimra Noman

Nimra Noman is a former political staffer for the federal government who, during the pandemic, reconsidered her career path.

Noman said the teacher surplus 10 years ago discouraged her, but the current demand helped convince her to pursue a second career as a teacher.

Noman, who is from Ontario’s Halton area, attended Nipissing in North Bay for the first year and a half of her program.

Then, she said, she chose to finish online because her placement was in the Greater Toronto Area and she could live at home to save money. 

Noman said she doesn’t plan to work in the north, but believes many of her fellow students will.

“My colleagues and some of my friends who are from the northern areas, they do mention that as soon as they have their degree there, they pretty much have a job.

“They can’t be guaranteed anything, obviously, but they know that where the gaps are, they’ve made connections that would allow them to pursue that,” Noman said.

A woman with long dark hair and brown eyes looks at the camera
Natashia Gonzales is graduating from the Indigenous Training Education Program at Nipissing University. (Supplied by Natashia Gonzales)

Natashia Gonzales is enrolled in the three-year Indigenous Education Training Program for students with Indigenous ancestry.

It’s the path to becoming an elementary school teacher, incorporating cultural teachings that a future teacher can apply to any classroom across the province.

Gonzales is also not from northern Ontario, although she spent two summers in North Bay as part of her program.

She’s graduating soon after teaching on a transitional certificate in the Toronto area and said she’s open to relocating, given the right conditions,

One of the issues preventing her from moving is the cost of living and housing.

“I just want to make sure that first of all, financially, it’s challenging to move at this time,” she said. “So it’s just making sure what offer I get, it’s financially feasible for me to be able to live there. I have some teacher friends that I’ve met out there, but I have my brother over here who can help me out sometimes.”

Ontario moves to address ‘teacher absences’

The Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement that since 2018, it has supported the hiring of 7,500 staff, including 3,000 additional educators, along with halving certification deadlines for domestic and international teacher candidates.

It said it has called on the Ontario Teachers’ Federation to reinstate short-term measures to get qualified, retired teachers in classrooms.

The ministry also said it continues to advance short- and long-term reforms to ensure certified educators are supporting students.

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