Brandon School Division is facing a shortage of substitute teachers, causing additional stress in city schools, according to the president of the Brandon Teachers’ Association.
Darren Hardy said the winter season is particularly challenging, due to the fact that many people in the substitute pool are retired teachers who tend to take vacations at this time.
“We find especially in the winter months, our Mondays and Fridays more so than in the middle of the week are negatively affected by lack of availability of substitutes,” Hardy said.
“That has a negative effect on everything from professional development, to planned activities at the school, to when teachers are sick of course. If there aren’t substitutes available, then that pressure gets passed along to the principal of the school, who has to find a way to make sure that there’s an adult in every classroom.”
Supt. Donna Michaels said the division normally experiences a substitute shortage in February every year.
“Each time it happens, it’s challenging,” Michaels said. “There’s no easy fix for it.”
According to BSD, there are 156 substitute teachers on the list. In February, that list shrunk considerably, with more than 70 people indicating they were unavailable.
While no teacher is forced to go to work when they are ill, Hardy said many still choose to do so, especially if there are no substitutes available.
“Sometimes we’re really concerned about the concept of presenteeism at work,” Hardy said.
“People coming to work when they shouldn’t be there. We want to make sure members are healthy. We want to make sure members are making the right choice, but if members know there are no subs available, rather than putting that burden on their colleague … People sometimes make the decision to come to work on their own when they’re sick.”
Hardy said doing that causes concern about passing on the illness to colleagues and students.
“We certainly appreciate the subs that we have, there’s just not enough of them,” Hardy said.
The BSD/BTA liaison committee is looking at ways to recruit more teachers into the substitute pool, including the idea of employing second-year Brandon University faculty of education students.
“Those are students at the end of their degree, as their graduating,” Hardy said.
“Once those teachers are finished their last practicum, and they’re eligible for graduation … the dean of education has the ability to sign off and give them permission to substitute on temporary certificates.”
Another idea is to arrange for educational assistants, who have teaching certificates, to substitute in an emergency situation.
However, Hardy said that may create a whole other set of problems.
“You’re taking an EA away from an established routine, and maybe the … students that EA is working with really be disrupted,” Hardy said.
“There’s a lot of weighing pros and cons in that situation that the division has to go through.”
The committee is also considering the idea of reaching out to teachers who have applied for a job in the division, but weren’t selected and encouraging them to apply for a substitute position.