A recent Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) survey suggests teachers are concerned about the impact the province’s ongoing teacher shortage is having on the most vulnerable students.
The poll was completed by 1,936 of the union’s 10,000 members between Oct. 21-31. In addition to a series of survey questions, teachers were asked to give examples of how the shortage is impacting their students.
In a media release Thursday, the NSTU said teachers who responded were concerned that those specializing in providing support to vulnerable students “are often first to be pulled away from their normal duties to fill-in for a colleague.”
One teacher wrote that having resource teachers, early literacy support teachers, and school counsellors covering other classrooms while teachers are out results in “less intervention for those who need it most.”
A literacy support teacher shared that they were one of the first asked to cover for a teacher whenever substitutes were unavailable.
“This leaves the students I am supposed to be working with without support,” the teacher wrote. “The students I support every day are vulnerable for a variety of reasons and should not be at a disadvantage because of these shortages.”
The union’s president Ryan Lutes said he wants the provincial government to actively address a worsening shortage he described as having a “profound impact” on students and school safety. In March, the union called for increased staffing and a provincial strategy to address increased school violence.
‘Our kids can’t wait’
The NSTU has been demanding the province develop a teacher recruitment and retention strategy, in addition to increasing pay for substitute teachers. The union said Nova Scotia’s substitute teachers are currently among the lowest paid in Canada.
As reported here, Lutes told a provincial standing committee last November that schools are in crisis “every day” due to the lack of substitute teachers. That meeting focused on teacher workloads and the impact on student achievement, along with teacher recruitment and retention.
“Our schools are in crisis every day because we do not have the right number of substitute teachers. They (teachers) are being pulled from our most vulnerable kids,” Lutes told the committee last year.
“Our teachers are overworked because of it. It is a crisis. It’s a crisis that requires government action, in my view, today.”
In Thursday’s media release, Lutes said the shortage is making it “increasingly difficult” for teachers to develop and prepare learning experiences that leave a lasting impression.
“At the same time kids in crisis, or those who are the most vulnerable are not always able to get the enhanced one-on-one attention they require,” Lutes said in the release. “Our kids can’t wait, we need to address the shortage now, so every student can get the support they both need and deserve.”
Among respondents to the recent NSTU survey, 81% said they’ve felt pressure to attend school while feeling sick, or to cancel medical appointments due to the lack of teachers. In addition, 70% said that since 2022 they’ve lost marking and prep time to cover for a colleague who’s absent. Also, 29% indicated they’d been asked to supervise multiple classrooms simultaneously as a result of the teacher shortage.