Shortage of qualified teachers in Northern Quebec schools

The back of the James Bay Eeyou School in Chisasibi, Que. (Submitted by Elizabeth Pashagumskum)
Under the pressure of a teacher shortage, school boards across Northern Quebec are putting unlicensed educators into classrooms.

Harriet Keleutak is the director general of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the school board for 14 Inuit communities in Nunavik. She said this year’s teacher shortage is hitting the region particularly hard.

“We really feel the repercussion of the teacher shortage that affects Quebec and Canada. Our priority remains homeroom teachers; we still have 19 of these vacancies and are actively recruiting,” she said in an email on Aug. 15.

“I would ask myself, ‘Why am I sending my child to school if he’s not learning anything?’”

Leigh-Ann Gates

Kativik Ilisarniliriniq had 84 vacant teaching positions at the beginning of this school year, compared to 54 last year. Recruiting teachers to northern communities is difficult, and Keleutak says the current teacher shortage creates an additional challenge.

She says 60 per cent of her teaching staff is non-Inuit, and most are hired from Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. On Aug. 23, she still had 56 vacancies to fill.

In the nine Cree communities in Northern Quebec, the Cree School Board also hires approximately 60 per cent of its teachers from the South and is having similar difficulties recruiting this year.

In an email on Aug. 28, Cree School Board spokesperson Cynthia Taylor said the situation has gotten worse over the past three years. Out of 481 teaching positions available this year, the board was still looking to fill approximately 30 to 37 positions across 11 schools.

The Waapinichikush Elementary School in Chisasibi Que. Schools are having trouble finding licensed teachers and are doing all they can to keep their classrooms open. (Submitted by Elizabeth Pashagumskum)

Both school boards state the best long-term solution to poor teacher retention is more Indigenous teachers — but in the meantime, there just aren’t enough people certified to do it. In order to keep classes open, one option for the schools is to hire local, uncertified people to fill teaching positions.

Leigh-Ann Gates, chairperson of the parent’s committee in the Cree community of Chisasibi, says she has noticed the increasing difficulty in hiring teachers over her past three terms. She criticizes the move to use unqualified teachers, because they lack training on how to manage students, which can make classroom dynamics chaotic.

Gates expressed concern that as a result, children in these classrooms don’t get the proper education and attention they need. She said this is something her family experienced first-hand, as one of her children went two years without a certified teacher.

“Sometimes I would ask myself, ‘Why am I sending my child to school if he’s not learning anything?'” she said.

Kimberly Quinn, director of school operations at the Cree School Board, agrees that the lack of teachers impedes student achievement in school.

“The absence of a teacher, for even 10 days, affects student learning and outcomes in key areas, such as reading and mathematics,” she said in an email.

The Cree board and Kativik Ilisarniliriniq both offer incentive packages to teachers, including subsidized housing and paid trips home. They say they are both concentrating their recruitment efforts on teachers who are looking to make a difference and work in a unique location like the North.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: School system in Canada’s Northwest Territories needs major reform, education minister says, CBC News

Finland: New climate studies program coming to schools in Finland, Yle News

Sweden: Inequality a problem in Swedish schools: UNICEF report, Radio Sweden

United States: University of Alaska: Governor halves vetoes, spreads cuts over three years, Alaska Public Media

Jamie Pashagumskum, CBC News

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