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Lakehead expanding enrolment amid widespread teacher shortage

To address a province-wide shortfall in qualified teachers, Lakehead's Orillia campus has developed options to help address the problem
Lakehead Orillia - Simcoe Hall
Lakehead Orillia - Simcoe Hall. Supplied photo

As schools around Simcoe County and beyond contend with qualified teacher shortages, Lakehead University is working towards a fix.

Teacher recruitment has become an issue across Ontario, with education minister Stephen Lecce announcing last month that the province is looking at “every option available” to help ease the shortage of teachers. 

On top of recruitment, the shortage is also impacting supply teacher levels, with more unqualified people — some with just a high school diploma — being called upon to substitute teach in Simcoe County and around the province.

According to a 2022 report from the Ontario College of Teachers, 1,500 more new teachers are needed annually by 2030 to keep up with demand; however, new teacher candidate admissions to Ontario’s faculties annually through 2022 stood about 1,400 below that requirement.

In Simcoe County, the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) recently said that while their supply list is essentially full, whether supply teachers on that list actually pick up the phone is the reason unqualified teachers are used in certain cases.

At Lakehead, which graduates 600 bachelor of education students each year, one action the university has taken is to introduce a 16-month technological education program last July, with 35 students enrolled across its Orillia and Thunder Bay campuses.

“Currently, there is shortage of tech ed teachers, and market projections identify that this shortage will become even more critical with a wave of upcoming retirements,” said Wayne Melville, dean of the faculty of education. 

Additionally, Lakehead plans to expand enrolment capacity in the intermediate/senior stream of its two-year teaching program, specifically focusing on STEM programming, from 90 to 140 students this coming fall. 

These changes, Melville said, “reflect the close working relationship we have with the Simcoe County District School Board and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.”

From Melville’s perspective, the current teacher shortage stems from both turnover during the pandemic and long-standing shortages in specific teaching areas. 

“There were a number of teachers that left the profession during the pandemic, but there has been a long standing shortage of teachers in specific areas such as tech ed, French, Indigenous language, and some STEM subjects,” he said.

The issue isn’t generally recruiting for long-term positions, but filling shorter-term needs. 

“Permanent positions can be filled — the real challenge is covering short-term positions and leaves of absence,” he said. “Retired teachers had been allowed to provide coverage, but the number of days they can cover is now being reduced from 95 to 50.”

Despite the province’s February commitment to look at “every option available” to ease the teacher shortage, Melville — who has participated in these discussions since last summer — said the government has yet to release any proposed options. 

In response to need, Lakehead has increased enrolment in its bachelor of education program over the past five years, enrolling hundreds of students beyond its provincial funding cap.

The province provides funding for 857 students in the program, but Lakehead has expanded its enrolment numbers to 1,160 students, meaning it received no provincial funding for over 300 students. 

Although Lakehead graduates 600 students from its teaching program each year, the university did not provide information on how many of these teachers stay in Simcoe County.

In the meantime, school boards across Ontario are leaning on the practice of hiring people who are not certified teachers or who have certification pending to cover emergency vacancies. Called "unqualified teachers," they must have a temporary certificate from the Ontario College of Teachers before they are put in a classroom.

In February, Ontario education worker unions such as the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and OECTA put out a joint media release blaming the provincial government for the current shortage.

“It should come as no surprise to the Ford government that the growing teacher shortage in Ontario, which is actually a recruitment and retention crisis, is a mess of their own making,” notes the release.

— With files from Jessica Owen

Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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