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Pressure to recruit French immersion teachers with increasing enrolment in Chilliwack

With increased interest in French immersion programs in Chilliwack and provincewide comes increased pressure to find qualified teachers.

Teaching programs in British Columbia are not meeting the demand for French-speaking teachers, which leads recruiting drives across the country in addition to to some imperfect scenarios in classrooms.

“There continues to be challenges in recruiting French immersion teachers,” according to School District 33 principal of human resources Diego Testa.

“There is a limited pool being produced out of the universities locally. All districts are recruiting further afield.”

Testa said his team has been to job fairs across the country in Ottawa, Toronto and other universities in Ontario.

In the spring, the Ministry of Education even went as far as Europe to recruit.

• READ MORE: Education minister off to Europe to recruit French teachers

And while there have been challenges, Testa maintains almost all positions are filled properly at this time. There are a couple of circumstances causing short-term problems, he conceded, one involving a teacher being held to a 30-day notice from leaving another school district. She won’t be in Chilliwack until October.

In other situations they’ve had to double up with two teachers in a high school class when, for example, there is an English-speaking social studies teacher being helped with the language by a primary level French teacher.

“We do have temporary measures in some of these circumstances,” Testa said.

But some parents are already reporting situations where their children in late French immersion high school classes being taught by English-only speaking teachers.

Meghan Reid said her daughter is in Grade 9 at Sardis secondary and has a long-term English-only substitute teaching French and Science French, with another English-only substitute teaching social studies French.

She’s been told by the principal that the shortage of teachers mean there is no resolution on the horizon.

“They do not expect to get French substitutes due to the French teacher shortage,” she said.

All this points to the ever-increasing demand for French immersion, according to the Canadian Parents for French B.C. and Yukon.

“French immersion is a well-established and highly regarded program,” said Diane Tijman, president of Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon. “Designed to help students become functionally bilingual by the time they graduate, the program’s effects are very real, empowering young people and opening doors in so many different ways.”

Graph showing total enrolment in School District 33 compared to French immersion enrolment. (Canadian Parents for French)

While overall enrolment in schools is actually decreasing across B.C. (from 606,383 total enrolment in 2004/2005 to 563,247 in 2017/2018) French immersion enrolment is on the rise.

Last school year, 53,487 students were enrolled in French immersion across B.C., or 9.5 per cent of the entire student body. That’s an increase of 50 per cent since 2004/2005.

In Chilliwack, there were 628 students in French immersion last year representing a record high at 4.6 per cent of students.

• READ MORE: French teachers in short supply but Chilliwack positions filled, for now – January 2018

This school year represents the first year of French immersion in all grades as the early French immersion cohort that started in Kindergarten at Cheam elementary has reached Grade 5.

“As a result of the booming popularity of this well-established program, districts around the province are scrambling to find enough qualified teachers and teaching assistants,” the CPF said in a press release.

According to Stats Canada, the CPF release stated, Canadians who speak both French and English earn, on average, 10 per cent more, and have a lower unemployment rate, compared to Canadians who only speak one of the two official languages.

“As well, there are cognitive developmental benefits of learning an additional language, such as: stronger listening skills, improved focus and concentration, increased ability to understand complex problems and higher tolerance, insight and understanding of other cultures.”

As for human resources departments across B.C., they are left scrambling to market their respective communities to draw French immersion teachers from across Canada.

Testa said he didn’t want to reveal his pitch given to prospective teachers at job fairs, but suffice to say that Chilliwack has a Goldilocks quality to it. The district is not too big and not too small. The community is close to the big city but close to the mountains and outdoor adventure. As for affordability, it’s the last bastion in the Lower Mainland.

As for the future, Testa is optimistic but he believes the pressure may remain for a number of years as universities are not able to be as nimble as is needed to meet demand.

“Things are certainly getting better,” he said. “Promoting that there’s steady work available in B.C. and the Fraser Valley and Chilliwack has helped us and is helping us to be more successful.

“I don’t know what’s on the horizon. I feel like we are turning the corner on some of the shortages in general, but some of these specialty area will continue to be a challenge for the next little bit.”

• RELATED: No more teacher shortage, B.C. education ministry says


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Paul Henderson

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