Skip to main content

iStockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

British Columbia students are heading back to schools filled with thousands of new teachers, recruited from across Canada and internationally, as the province remakes the education system in the wake of a major Supreme Court of Canada decision that led to the hiring spree.

With less than a week before classes resume, about 2,200 teachers have been hired and about 300 positions are yet to be filled. Many of those teachers had to be lured from elsewhere to the province in an extensive hiring process within a short time frame.

"This has been a national and even international recruiting effort," B.C.'s new Education Minister, Rob Fleming, said in an interview.

Earlier: Vancouver school board superintendent announces resignation

Also: B.C.-certified schools in South Korea face visa crackdown

"We've got [people with] B.C. teachers licence certificates coming home from overseas. We've got school districts recruiting teachers from out of province who want to live in our beautiful province. In some districts, we've got recently retired teachers coming back into the classroom for a set period of time. It has been a massive effort."

British Columbia has about 42,000 public-school teachers. Last November, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against 2002 legislation by the former BC Liberal government that barred teachers from negotiating class size and composition related to special-needs students.

As a result, there was an agreement in March to restore smaller class sizes, and add $360-million in funding to public schools.

Gordon Swan, president of the BC School Trustees Association, whose members have been involved in hiring teachers, said it has been a challenge for districts to check credentials and references and proceed through other requirements for hiring. He said it has all been a process unlike anything he has seen in his 21 years as a trustee.

However, he said there is no reason for parents to worry about the outcome.

"Parents will have teachers in front of their child when school starts next week," Mr. Swan said from Merritt, B.C.

And beyond this school year, he said the enduring benefit for education in B.C. will include smaller class sizes and more specialty educators.

Glen Hansman, head of the B.C. Teachers' Federation union, said it would have been preferable if all the hiring had been done well before the start of this school year, but he said parents shouldn't panic.

"The jobs are going to get filled but at the end of the day, we want to make sure that they're all filled in a timely manner," he said.

Further complicating the recruitment challenge in some jurisdictions, he said, is that teachers in B.C. are paid "significantly less" than teachers elsewhere and the cost of living in some parts of B.C. is high.

"It is really a difficult pitch to make to people who are graduating from teacher-education programs to come out to B.C.," Mr. Hansman said.

Northern and rural communities have long struggled to bring in teachers, particularly specialty and secondary school teachers, he added.

In a statement, the Education Ministry said a $2-million fund was created to help rural schools offer incentives, such as moving allowances or housing supports.

Maintaining an adequate pool of on-call teachers has also been a challenge as they take full-time jobs and Mr. Hansman said the supply will need to be replenished.

To encourage recruitment, Mr. Hansman said he hopes the new government considers a student-loan forgiveness program for prospective teachers and getting rid of the lower tiers of the 10-step salary grid – "basically a 10-year training wage" – so salaries are more competitive at the starting end.

Doug Strachan, a spokesman for the school district in Surrey, the province's fastest growing city, said on Thursday that his district has hired 315 teachers since the Supreme Court ruling, but still has 100 positions left to fill, notably librarians, counsellors, music program teachers, and other educators who do not necessarily have assigned classrooms.

Because of the growth in Surrey, Mr. Strachan said the school district is well-attuned to hiring as required.

"We were out the door as soon as possible after the [Supreme Court] ruling," Mr. Strachan said.

With a report from The Canadian Press

salmon 2