North Island schools are facing a critical lack of teacher’s Teaching-On-Call (TTOCs), amid a province-wide shortage.
The shortage comes after a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that allowed the BC Teachers’ Federation to restore their pre-2002 collective agreement, which gave them the right to bargain class size and composition, a right which had previously been stripped by provincial legislation.
“Once the Supreme Court ruled we hired another 3,000 teachers over the last couple months and that put dents into the TTOCs we normally hire,” said Vancouver Island North Teachers’ Association President Shawn Gough.
Gough added he’s seeing the impact on the North Island, as well.
“It is much harder to recruit and obtain teachers in the North Island – to start with, it makes it that much harder when we have TTOCs come in and they get jobs right away so we are constantly having to replenish the TTOC list,” he explained.
“We literally have days where positions are not being filled – in some cases, they have been filled by education assistants or teacher librarians.”
He said the restoration of the collective agreement has had a positive impact overall, including smaller and more appropriate class sizes across the school district, an increase of five full-time teaching positions, eight new part-time teacher librarians, and an increase in learning support positions in all schools.
However, he said the lack of TTOCs means student learning and teacher health is jeopardized.
“If you take your learning assistant teacher, whose primary goal is to provide support, out of that job and put them in a regular classroom because there is no one to fill in for them, then those students aren’t getting the support they need,” stated Gough.
The impact is also being felt on teachers themselves.
Gough said many of the TTOCs on the North Island are retired teachers themselves, and are getting close to the end of their TTOC’ing career.
“My job is getting a lot tougher now,” said Terry Whitney, who has been teaching on the North Island for 40 years and instead of fully retiring, has become a TTOC. “I used to enjoy just coming in a day or two a week, but because of the shortage I just did a four-day stint which I didn’t want to do, but they can’t get anyone,” added Whitney.
He said there have always been problems attracting TTOCs to the North Island, but he’s never seen it this severe.
“They don’t want to come up here just to be a TTOC, so we are struggling to keep the ones who are up here and the older ones are finding it more work now than they’d ever thought they’d have,” said Whitney, adding, “Without the older teachers staying on, I don’t know what they will do.”
Christina MacDonald, Acting Director of Instruction for School District 85 said the district has openings posted on makeafuture.ca the official job board for school districts around the province.
“Province-wide there is a TTOC demand,” confirmed MacDonald adding, “I think we are even a little better off than some places in the province.”
She also noted the district is actively working on staffing together with the Vancouver Island North Teachers Association.
Gough said he knows the school board is attempting to resolve the situation, “but it’s going to take provincial action to really resolve the issue.”
He said he’d like to see a province-wide recruitment and retention strategy that takes into account the different areas of the province.
“A retention recruitment strategy would look different for the North Island or Haida Gwaii than it would for Surrey or Burnaby,” said Gough, adding, “We still have to push the government to do the right thing and address the situation.”