Monday, Jan 2023

In one of the final signs of life returning to normal after the Covid 19 pandemic, Ontario public schools are back in session with no restrictions. Children across the GTA, impacted by two years of masks and virtual schooling, were all smiles in early September as they returned to learn and play with classmates. Parents are also feeling relief, as two years of mandates or home schooling come to an end and life truly starts to appear normal.

While the experts on both sides of the Covid debate go back and forth on risk scenarios and hypotheticals, parents that look beyond Covid 10 concerns have questions about what their children will see when they return. Will there be enough teachers and supplies? Are schools ready to take children back or still reeling from two years of closure? After years of concern about teacher shortages, what impact will the pandemic have on education around Toronto? Ontario public schools look quite different after Covid, but that may not be an improvement for our children.

For two years the focus has been on a teacher shortage and stifling wages for educators that haven’t kept up with the cost of living. While wages remain a major issue, the staffing issue has subtly shifted. Instead of a general shortage, we need to focus on two critical concerns: the lack of full-time contracts and the morale impact of current conditions on teachers overall.

There is no doubt that teachers are in high demand. Unemployment rates for teachers are at a 15-year low and openings can be found across the province for both full-time and supply teachers. In fact, the Ontario College of Teachers predicts that new teachers entering the system may just barely offset 2022 retirements. However, policy changes over the past several years have reduced barriers to entry for new teachers and many administrators claim the staffing issues are over. The risk is that full-time contracts have been falling since 2015 and the occasional and supply teachers, or students now approved to teach while completing degrees, have few incentives to press on with hope for a full-time role. As a result, Ontario is experiencing a talent drain as other provinces or industries entice smart teachers to consider new opportunities.

For the teachers who remain, including older teachers postponing retirement due to economic challenges and inflation rates over 7%, virtual classroom roles will be in high demand. As those limited roles fill, we will see a frustrated roster of educators who resign themselves to completing the minimum expectations of their roles. This will mean fewer volunteers to take on extracurricular activities like clubs, sports, and after school programs. Education has always been an industry where that discretionary effort from teachers directly impacts the quality of the student experience, so parents should expect their children to have a very different experience than what they knew growing up.

As the new school year starts, parents should prepare to be active participants. Returning to in-person classes will be another shift in learning modality for children and the classroom environment can make it more challenging to customize the level and quality of the education to each individual student. Our children will need support at home to keep up with studies and homework. A great partnership with parents at home is the solution that will ensure the most important goal of all: the success of our children.

 

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