Unlicensed substitute teachers may once again be used this school year

138 uncertified substitute teachers were employed last year by the Halifax Regional Center for Education

Halifax-area students this year could again be taught temporarily by unlicensed substitutes, who don’t have an education-training background, if their regular teacher is absent.

The Halifax Regional Center for Education is preparing for potential staffing issues – teachers off sick or otherwise absent, licensed substitutes perhaps choosing not to work – by hiring certified supply teachers and non-licensed subs, as it did during the COVID-19 crisis.

Such issues during the coronavirus pandemic were prompted by permanent teachers’ illnesses and absences, and a shortage of licensed substitutes.

The center has a 2020-21 notice online with information for prospective, unlicensed supply teachers. It says applicants don’t need a Bachelor of Education degree, and “will only be engaged when licensed (substitutes) are not available.”

Applicants must undergo a criminal background check and have “a satisfactory (job) interview and positive references.”

“Interested candidates who hold a completed Bachelor’s degree and have experience working with children/youth are encouraged to apply,” the center’s notice says.

The province’s COVID-19 state of emergency lasted from March 2020 until March of this year.

Public schools in Halifax Regional Municipality reopen for the 2022-23 academic year on Wednesday.

Deborah Waines-Bauer, a spokesperson for the education centre, told CityNews Halifax last week that 138 uncertified substitute teachers were employed last year. The rate of pay for them for the new school year, she said, is $196 a day.

Recently, center staff contacted “those non-licensed substitutes who worked with us in 2021-22, asking them to confirm their interest” for this school year, Waines-Bauer said via email.

Qualified candidates who don’t have an education degree are issued a permit to teach as unlicensed supply teachers.

“We value their contributions to our system,” Waines-Bauer said, “and look forward to welcoming them into our schools once again if necessary.”

The recruiting of unlicensed substitutes has occurred in other provinces, too.

For instance, in 2020, a school board serving Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., advertised for “emergency occasional teachers.” A board in British Columbia’s Interior in 2018 sought non-certified teacher “replacements” to help when staff shortages arose.

The Halifax Regional Center for Education has some 53,000 pupils in 135 schools. It employs about 11,500 people.

According to CBC News, uncertified substitute teachers weren’t the only temporary educators in public-school classrooms last year. The province offered 282 graduating Bachelor of Education students early certification to help address the need for substitutes.

About 10 per cent of permanent teachers in Nova Scotia are absent from the workplace on any given day, CBC reported in March. The HRCE’s website says the center “has hundreds of substitute assignments daily” in its schools.

Supply teachers here access a substitute-placement system – an automated, digital database – to learn which schools require subs.

The center also hires non-teaching, support workers for short-term duties to fill in for permanent staffers who are away.

Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth