Teachers in demand as popularity of French immersion programs grows

There’s a shortage of teachers for French immersion programs around B.C. — and the problem is growing.

Only about one-fifth of the French immersion teachers needed in the province each year are graduating, says Glyn Lewis, executive director of the B.C./Yukon branch of Canadian Parents for French.

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“So there’s a lot of recruitment that’s happening from other provinces and around the world,” Lewis said.

In the Greater Victoria school district, about 20 per cent of the 19,000 students are involved in French immersion — well above the 2015-16 provincial average of about 9.5 per cent.

An initiative to find teachers has kept positions filled, said Simon Burgers, district principal of languages and multiculturalism.

“We have a huge focus on an effort to hire French immersion teachers,” Burgers said.

He said he works closely with the human resources department “and we are actively advertising and interviewing hirings throughout the year.”

Still, it is a struggle to keep French immersion fully staffed, Burgers said.

“We have the largest immersion program in the province.”

There are a number of reasons for the program’s size, he said.

“Victoria happens to be a government town and so that second language is valued by a lot of members of our community, so they choose French for their kids,” he said.

More generally, many parents who have gone through French immersion and who are now having children want them to have the same experience, Burgers said.

In many B.C. school districts, the lack of French immersion teachers is a limiting factor in program growth, he said.

Officials in the Sooke and Saanich school districts have also faced a shortage of French immersion teachers.

Sooke superintendent Jim Cambridge said about 10 per cent of the district’s 10,000 students are in French immersion, up from about eight per cent a few years ago.

He said the demand for French immersion teachers can be seen in the district’s teacher-on-call list, where people in many teaching areas have to wait about a year before landing full-time employment.

“With French immersion, it happens much quicker.”

Cambridge said shop teachers are also in high demand, while Saanich superintendent Keven Elder said special-education and senior-level science positions can be a challenge to fill.

Cambridge said there could be an overall shortage of teachers on the horizon as districts do more hiring to meet the provisions of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on class size and composition. The ruling restored 2002 levels in a November ruling, which means additional teachers will be needed.

Burgers said the issue of a French immersion teacher shortage reaches beyond B.C.’s borders, and it is clear that more has to be done to increase the number of French immersion and non-immersion French teachers in a number of provinces.

He said teachers can apply for federal bursaries to improve their French skills.

Along with that, Burgers said the district has worked with the University of Victoria to develop a “specialization certification” in French immersion “so that teachers who have a strong mastery of the language can go through this program and build skills for a second-language learning setting, in addition to building their own language skills.”

There is provision for students working toward bachelor’s degrees in education to take the certification courses, he said.

Lewis said his organization has suggested several measures to alleviate the shortage, including expanding immigration policies to attract more out-of-country teachers from French-speaking areas.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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