School's back in Nunavut, but teacher shortage leaves some classrooms empty
Published Friday, August 31, 2018 8:51AM EDT
The school year is already underway in most of Nunavut, but classrooms in some communities are empty as officials scramble to fill 60 teaching vacancies.
Nunavut’s teacher shortage, which is part of a larger national trend, is particularly acute in the Qikiqtaaluk region in the easternmost part of the territory, where there are 38 vacancies – a tiny improvement from last year when officials say there were 40.
Pujjuut Kusugak, Nunavut’s deputy minister of education, told CTV’s Your Morning that principals and support staff are filling in for teachers in some cases as a short-term measure to address the problem. In other instances, children are being moved to different schools, or grades and classes are being combined.
The teacher shortage in Nunavut comes even though the territory has the second-highest teacher salaries in Canada and provides teachers with subsidized housing, generous living allowances and even relocation costs.
Teachers at Nunavut’s 44 schools can expect to earn from $75,000 to $117,000 each year – much higher than the national average annual starting salary for grade school teachers of $51,046 – plus a living allowance as high as $34,000 to help offset the high cost of living.
Despite the monetary perks, teacher turnover rates are as high as 40 per cent in the territory.
One of the reasons, officials hypothesize, could be because of a housing shortage. Even though housing is subsidized for teachers, they are often forced to live in a shared house with multiple roommates where they have only a bedroom to themselves.
Kusugak told CTV’s Your Morning that the education department will hire people who have experience working with school-age children, even if they don’t have teaching degrees.
“As a former teacher, the students are absolutely amazing,” he said. “The staff we have are absolutely resourceful and great people.”
The territory is taking additional measures to attract teachers such as supporting a partnership between the University of Regina and the Nunavut Arctic College that helps prepare Inuit to teach classes.
“We want to see more people who move up there,” Pugusak said, “but we also want to try to create more Inuit teachers.”
Teacher shortages nationwide
It’s not just Nunavut that is in a pinch to fill teacher vacancies. Education officials across Canada are sounding the alarm, too.
In Montreal, the city’s largest French school board said that it needs to immediately hire 70 teachers as enrollment in French schools skyrockets.
British Columbia’s teachers’ union filed a grievance over the shortage of teachers in the province in June, warning that failure to resolve it would result in significant disruptions to the school year in September and pose major problems for students with disabilities. With just days to go before classes begin, there are more than 540 teaching vacancies.
And while New Brunswick, the country’s only officially bilingual province, narrowly avoided the possibly embarrassing situation of not having any French immersion teachers for the upcoming school year, officials say recruiting teachers will likely be an ongoing struggle in the future.