Lack of supply teachers during the pandemic puts ‘burden’ on teachers, says teaching association

The number of teachers absent from the classroom is on the rise in red zones and some school districts in New Brunswick are now struggling to find enough supply teachers willing to provide the necessary backfill.

The Anglophone East School District superintendent, Gregg Ingersoll, said the district came close to shutting down Harrison Trimble High School on Monday due to a lack of staff and he warns that with the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise in southeastern New Brunswick, some schools may have to shut down

“We are probably going to reach the point if it continues the way it is that we are going to have to cancel some schools just because we don’t have enough supply teachers,” said Ingersoll.

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Teacher absenteeism, he said, has been climbing since last week because once the region reverted to the red phase, teachers can’t work in the schools if they have even one symptom.

“So this issue of not having enough supply teachers is starting to creep in,” he said.

With outbreaks now in some schools, he said more teachers are also being required to self-isolate.

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Without enough supply teachers to provide backfill, the president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, Rick Cuming, says other teachers still in the schools are having to pull double duty.

“This poses a very real burden on the rest of the school staff to try and fill in for these unfilled supply days. The extra strain on teachers and administrators will take a toll,” said Cuming.

It’s a growing problem at schools across the province, says Ingersoll.

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Last Friday, 256 teachers were absent from the Anglophone South School District in the Saint John region, according to spokesperson Zoe Watson.

Ingersoll said that if some schools are forced to shut down due to a lack of staff, technology supports are in place for students and teachers to continue online learning at home, which would also alleviate the need for so many supply teachers.

“If the school is open and teachers are there, we need a supply teacher there. If the school is closed, now all of those teachers are at home and they are not sick can now teach remotely to their students,” he said.

He said he acknowledges at-home learning will put an added burden on parents, but said it may be the only option to keep up with studies during staffing shortages.

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