Northwestern school board looks to hire more emergency, unqualified teachers: RRDSB

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A shortage of teaching staff has required the Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) to expand their efforts in growing their roster of emergency, unqualified teachers.

“There is a significant shortage,” said Kevin Knutsen, RRDSB Executive officer of Employee and Labour Relations. “This isn’t something that’s new. And what we’re doing is just expanding that to try to grow ours a little bit more.”

All school boards in Ontario maintain a list of unqualified workers and RRDSB hires for the position on an ongoing basis, he said. However, this year, the board saw a need to grow the roster due to a smaller number of teachers available compared to the past.

“We have never focused on really hiring emergency unqualified teachers, we’ve always been able to get by without needing that additional layer of backup support. So this was the first,” Knutsen said.

Knutsen added that schools are anticipating more teacher absences once flu season hits, making it essential that there are people who can support classrooms on an emergency basis.

To generate interest in the position, the board has been sharing more hiring information on social media and also hosted an in-person informational session for applicants to learn more about what the position entails and who would be a good fit.

The session was held on Wednesday, September 13, 2023, from 12 to 6 p.m.

Knutsen said that the process has been positive and that they are currently assessing applicants.

Upon hearing concerns within the community about having unqualified workers in schools, Knutsen explained that those who are hired do have qualifications, just not an Ontario College of Teachers certificate.

Qualifications and experience in other professions or backgrounds are still required and heavily assessed, he said.

“I think that people don’t quite understand that unqualified is an actual term, that means they don’t have an Ontario College of Teachers certificate, but we do require qualifications and experience,” Knutsen said.

The prerequisite to becoming an emergency, unqualified teacher relies heavily upon life experiences where the individual has worked with children in some sort of capacity.

Applicants are assessed for their work, education, and volunteering experience, with an emphasis on background checks and references.

As an example, Knutsen compared someone who may have a master’s degree in accounting but hasn’t had much experience with children, whereas another successful applicant might have coached a sports team and ran youth camps.

“So ultimately, we’re trying to look at the whole applicant to see, you know, is this somebody that would have all the pieces that would be best fit to work in our schools with students,” he said.

Knutsen said they haven’t seen any trends this year regarding the backgrounds of those who have applied to be an emergency teacher. Those who applied have come from a diverse range of backgrounds including health care, daycare, and some from trades.

“Maybe over time there’d be more of a trend,” he said. “It really varied, but it seemed to be people that had some sort of background working with children and youth, whether it was directly in their job, or their outside interests, coaching and things like that.”

Applications are currently being screened. In the recent interviews with potential applicants, Knutsen heard two people say they were looking into completing their teacher’s college certification, and that they hoped that working as an unqualified teacher would reveal whether or not they should pursue a career in education.

Successful applicants are required to complete an orientation and mandatory training with the school.

Individuals hired as emergency staff will begin by work alongside another certified classroom teacher and remain in a shadowing position until they have identified that they are comfortable leading a classroom on their own.

Furthermore, the individuals hired as emergency staff will only work in one school, Knutsen said.

There are many reasons why the education sector has been facing a teacher shortage. One reason being the changing demographics in society, Knutsen speculated. “It seems in all sectors, whether it’s healthcare or the private sector. I think everybody’s aware right now that there’s less of a workforce out there.”

Another reason, he added, pertains to the switch from a one-year Bachelor of Education program to a two-year program.

“Now candidates have to spend two years in school. So number one, that means there was a period of time where there were a lot less graduates, and now there’s also less people going into it, because it’s a two year commitment versus a one year. Those things certainly had an impact.”