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'Critical juncture' in B.C.'s teacher shortage, union calls for action and retention

Three new commercials are being released to raise attention to B.C.'s 'dire' teacher shortage.

B.C.’s teacher shortage has hit a critical juncture and is in dire need of help to retain certified people in the classroom, says the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF).

The BCTF released three new videos on Thursday as part of a new advertising campaign to highlight the impact of the shortage. 

The union's president, Clint Johnston, tells Glacier Media B.C.’s public classrooms are "not a pretty picture."

“There's severe shortages across the province. It's not just a rural and remote thing ... it's everywhere in the province,” he says. "It's a bit tough out there right now, honestly."

Shortages mean the teachers who are working are experiencing more workload, he adds. 

“They're trying to support students, more students with the same amount of energy and time, and they're finding it more and more difficult,” says Johnston. “That means that students often don't get the support they need either.”

Three 15-second-video commercials will air across TV, digital streaming services, websites and Meta-owned social media platforms. They show moments of students struggling and teachers there to help.

“We really want to raise even higher the awareness in the public's mind, of how dire that shortage is, and how that translates into a lack of service for students in our schools, often the most vulnerable ones,” he says. 

BCTF is giving the province a failing grade. 

“We're trying to make it all high profile enough that we get some commitment from all of the parties about what are they going to do?” questions Johnston. 

According to the union, B.C. needs 20,000 teachers and 7,000 teacher assistants over the next 10 years to cover growing enrolment and the replacement of retiring staff. 

“We need more teachers so that they can spend more time with each student and have the time to prepare for those students,” says Johnston. 

The number of uncertified teachers, also known as letter of permission, have gone up "remarkably" over the last year, according to BCTF.

“Year on year, the increase is huge,” says Johnston. 

He explains how having uncertified teachers does not produce a high-quality public education system.

“They're very well-intentioned, and they're filling a gap. It's nothing against those individuals, but teaching children requires a lot of training, requires an understanding of children of the curriculum, of all of the aspects of doing that job,” he says. “When you don't have that training, you're just not going to do it as well. That's the bottom line.”

The lesson he is focusing on from the past year is that retention is more important.

“We need to recruit people, but you have to keep them in the profession and the workload that teachers are dealing with right now is untenable,” he says. 

He says teachers are leaving the profession faster than ever before.

“You have to make a job that they can do for 30 years,” he says. “That affords them to live in the community that they teach in.” 

Johnstone is hopeful the videos will make a difference. To see all of the commercials, visit the BCTF website

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