It could be chalked up to a lack of supply – or in this case, a lack of supply teachers.
A CityNews investigation has revealed that the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board relied on people not certified to teach to supervise classrooms nearly 3,000 times last year and have already used parents, student-teachers and other unqualified persons 1,943 times in the first half of this school year.
Last November, CityNews first identified the problem of an apparent shortage of supply teachers at one of the largest school boards in the GTA.
Dufferin-Peel spokesperson Bruce Campbell told us part of the problem was an increase in teacher absenteeism.
“It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s what we’re faced with. It’s not only us, not only Dufferin-Peel, it’s a provincial issue,” Campbell said at the time, which appears to be the case.
Between Sept. 2018 and Feb. 28, 2019, the Peel Region District School Board relied on “emergency, non–accredited monitors” to supervise elementary students 543 times.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board didn’t use non-certified personnel last school year, but so far has had to do so 25 times this school year.
In many cases, these are parents who have not met the criteria to be a certified teacher, but have passed criminal and vulnerable persons background checks.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson acknowledges this is an ongoing practice.
“The principals and the school boards have the opportunity to allow persons into the classroom via letters of permission and, in granting those letters of permission, there are qualifications. We are working with our school boards to make sure that students have qualified people in front of them on a daily basis,” Thompson said.
Thompson didn’t explain what steps the government was taking to address this issue and offered a similar response when CityNews first questioned her on this topic last November.
There’s been a marked increase in teacher sick days since 2012, when the previous Liberal government slashed teachers’ sick day allotment from 20 to 11, and ended the practice of allowing them to carry over unused days to following years.
A 2017 report by the auditor general revealed that more than 50 school boards found that usage of sick days increased by about 30 per cent — from nine days in the 2011-2012 school year, to 11.6 in 2015-2016.
Rules that allow supply teachers to work for multiple boards and the recent extension of teacher qualifications from a one-year to a two-year program on top of a bachelor degree may have also contributed to the increasing reliance on non-qualified personnel at the helm of classrooms.
“The uncertified person will not always have the skill set to be able to guide students in the same way as a qualified teacher,” explained Diane Dewing, president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.
Essentially, the monitors are there to supervise students, not teach them. Those school days are, essentially, lost.
“Young people deserve an education with properly qualified and properly certified teachers in the classroom and to hear that school boards are turning to unqualified resources already is problematic. Our kids deserve a proper education,” NDP leader Andrea Horwath told CityNews.
“It’s completely inappropriate. Our students deserve certified, qualified teachers and also, there are so many young teachers looking for work, that it seems irresponsible to not be using those qualified teachers,” Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said, echoing the NDP’s concerns.
Using unqualified persons does save school boards money.
Uncertified classroom monitors are paid $22.92 an hour – or about $150 per day, while a certified, qualified supply teacher costs about $260 per day.
“As the Ford government continues to cut education, I’m deeply worried that you’re going to see this type of deterioration in quality,” Schreiner adds.
CityNews asked Thompson if she anticipates an increase in the use of uncertified supervisors with the changes the government is rolling out to classroom sizes and curriculum.
But, she didn’t address the question.
“What I’m anticipating is that we are focusing on making sure that our students are learning about STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], learning about math. They are going to be prepared with job skills and life skills that they need to get a job,” she said.
When asked how that can be possible if qualified teachers aren’t leading the classes, Thompson declined to answer, saying “I’m sorry, I have to go.”
“Unqualified teachers simply do the best they can, and the hope, I believe, is that it’s just going to be for a day. But here’s the problem. At a time when the government says it wants a focus on STEM, they are at this point where zero teachers being trained in tech. Zero. And previous to this year, there were very, very, very, few,” Dewing pointed out, suggesting this could become a bigger problem moving forward.