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'Stress on a system': Substitute teachers in high demand in Manitoba schools

Schools around the province continue to deal with high rates of absenteeism – including among staff, and according to the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), there’s a high demand for substitute teachers.

“Teachers, although sometimes they’re superheroes, when it comes to the classroom and being there for the students they’re not immune from the illnesses either,” James Bedford, MTS president told CTV News. “So we’re seeing, I think, significantly elevated levels of absences and that’s a stress on a system.”

Rodger Lourenzo has been teaching for 35 years, including the last five as a substitute.

"I was going to stop [teaching] when COVID hit, but it was kind of all hands on deck, so I decided to do that," Lourenzo told CTV News.

On Thursday, he was filling in as a physical education teacher at Dakota Collegiate.

“I know all the students, I know the staff. It’s been fantastic. But I do feel guilty on days when I’d rather be doing something else. But I just know there’s teachers stranded without coverage.”

The long-time educator says the demand for substitute teachers remains high following two years of hybrid learning.

“On any given day, I believe most schools are short subs. They can’t get enough to fill the demand,” Lourenzo said. “I think that’s commonplace.”

According to the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD), there were 224 staff absences on Wednesday alone.

Bedford said absenteeism and the need for substitutes is a concern throughout Manitoba’s education system. Bedford said there’s been a chronic shortage in rural areas for years, but it’s a concern spilling into metro regions of the province.

"We don’t have the option to simply cancel classes or say, ‘no school today’. There has to be a responsible adult in that room,” Bedford said.

He attributes the shortage to substitute teacher wages, fewer retired teachers taking on sub assignments, and a diminishing supply of incoming teachers.

Bedford said when substitutes are not available, other educators in schools commonly fill in.

"That’s what teachers do. They pull up their socks and they get the work done because they care very very deeply about students."

An LRSD spokesperson told CTV News, “The availability of substitutes has been an important topic during staffing conversations. Although the number of teacher and educational assistant subs is moving toward pre-pandemic levels, the division is actively working to recruit and is in the process of hiring additional substitutes to its repertoire."

The spokesperson added there are 482 substitute teachers available in LRSD – an increase of 40 teachers from last year. In December 2019, the division had 553 substitutes.

Lourenzo said he continues to substitute to help his fellow educators.

"It’s tough out there for teachers. I know teachers who get sick and they feel guilty being away because they oftentimes know that their colleagues are having to fill in and that’s a tough spot to be in and I feel for them." Top Stories


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