N.W.T. schools to lose at least 137 teachers, says teachers’ association

Every year, roughly 100 teachers in the N.W.T. leave their posts, but this year, those numbers are expected to be higher.

The head of the NWT Teachers’ Association says the territory’s tight COVID-19 restrictions, including quarantine requirements, are among the reasons for the departures.

“I’m fearful of where we are right now. The problem is that we have good teachers that are leaving the territory,” said Matthew Miller, president of the NWT Teachers’ Association.

Miller said at least 137 teachers have indicated they will leave the territory, and another 27 will be transferring communities within the territory.

So far the association has heard back from 40 of 49 schools and seven Divisional Education Councils, with 16 per cent still needing to report which teachers will leave. That means the number of teachers leaving will likely grow.

As well, Miller said some teachers are postponing their decision.

“Some of our teachers have told us it’s going to be a last minute decision. If there is still isolation, they may resign in August which is our worst case scenario because it’s very hard to do hiring in August,” he said.

New hires help even out the annual loss, but even the average of one hundred teachers who leave every year is too high, Miller says. 

“I think 50 teachers is a lot.”

Quarantine a factor

Miller said some teachers are leaving because of travel restrictions the Northwest Territories government imposed during the pandemic.

The association takes an exit survey yearly, Miller says, and this year’s responses indicated “that a majority of the people who are leaving and filling out the survey have identified COVID-19 as at least one of the reasons why they are leaving.”

Miller acknowledges there were additional positions hired for this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to facilitate smaller classes, and some people may be leaving because of that.

Three main reasons employees cite for not returning are having to quarantine, having to pay for quarantine, or having accepted a position closer to friends and family.

He said all three of those reasons relate to difficulties around visiting family outside of the N.W.T. during the pandemic.

The teacher loss is particularly hitting smaller communities, Miller added.

NWT Teachers’ Association President Matthew Miller says for some teachers, whether they stay or go will be a ‘last minute’ decision. (Submitted by Angela Gzowski)

The Beaufort Delta region is losing the most with 30 out of about 160 teachers leaving. Four of the 10 Beaufort Delta region locations still haven’t reported their numbers to the association yet.

Miller said they will have an about 20 per cent turnover within Yellowknife Catholic schools.

He said the turnover in two communities stood out to him in particular: Colville Lake, where five of the seven teachers are leaving, and Ulukhaktok, where eight of the 13 teachers are leaving. Three of those eight are transferring within the N.W.T.

Miller was paying close attention to the new Emerging Wisely plan because of the potential impact it could have not just on current teachers staying, but on potential new teachers.

Turnover rate a concern every year

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment says the high turnover rate for the N.W.T. is a concern every school year.

“Educators play an important role in communities and ECE [Education, Culture and Employment] recognizes the value of educators developing a strong relationship with the N.W.T. communities they call home,” wrote Briony Grabke, a spokesperson for the department.

“ECE is optimistic that the news around the relaxing of isolation requirements based on vaccination status will support teacher recruitment and retention in the N.W.T.”

Grabke said that ECE is not responsible for the direct hiring of new teachers, and is unable to provide an accurate number of how many teachers will be leaving the territory.

She wrote that ECE supports education bodies with recruitment of new teachers, retention, engaging and answering questions and offering a mentorship program for new teachers.

Some teachers are not returning because of retirements, maternity or paternity leave, or another type of leave. And Miller stressed that the mass exodus isn’t because people don’t want to stay in the North, but is because they need to be able to see family.

“This has nothing to do with our members [not] loving our communities with this…

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