TORONTO — In an unprecedented move by the Ontario government, university students pursuing teacher education are now able to work in schools to alleviate short-staffed school boards during the pandemic, the Toronto Star reported on February 1. This move adds up to 2,000 teachers-in-training to the school board roster, on whom boards will rely when they cannot secure accredited teachers for substitute teaching jobs.
“There’s just not enough [teachers] with what’s going on right now,” a government source told the Star. “This is really going to help with the problem boards are having.”
To be eligible for a temporary teaching certificate, the student teacher must be excelling in their teacher education program; have existing practicum experience; and be set to graduate by the end of the year. Student teachers must also be in the final year of their two-year teaching degree.
The government source informed the Star that the opportunity will provide “temporary staffing stabilization and relief” for schools in the province that have suffered a paucity of teachers since the pandemic. The Dufferin-Peel Catholic school board, for example, saw 40% teacher absenteeism due to COVID-19.
“Numerous school boards also experienced closures from September to December due to operational considerations, like staffing shortages, and had to close as a result,” the source said.
Student teachers will be compensated at the going rate for beginners, according to the Star, and the classroom hours they fulfill can count towards their practicum requirements, which have been affected by the school shutdowns. Faculties of education have also agreed to accommodate students who miss university classes for their newfound teaching assignments.
However, Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, argued that the staff shortages are an indictment of school boards’ mismanagement during the pandemic. Moreover, the “temporary certificate would essentially paper over the government’s failures, leaving the root problems unaddressed,” she told the Star.
The Ontario College of Teachers had created a temporary certificate in December 2020 and impelled the provincial government to enact the emergency measure of allowing student teachers to work. However, unions said that they were not consulted for the decision, also questioning the urgency of the shortage.
Stuart’s union was “very concerned” about the news at the time, the Star reported.
“While some school boards are experiencing legitimate shortages of qualified, certified teachers, in many cases the situation is a reflection of the government’s poor planning for this school year,” she told the Star.
She insisted that the government should have made more health and safety provisions for teachers who had to “travel between classrooms and schools.” The state’s failure to do so, according to Stuart, meant many qualified and certified educators had not accepted jobs as they normally would.
The Ontario government has provided extra funding to school boards to recruit more teachers, the Star reported. The province has hired 3,400 more teachers, with another 890 expected to follow.
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