Short-staffed: Nunavut struggles with annual teacher recruitment

Schools may be back in session, but Nunavut is still short 56 teachers out of 680 teaching positions.

It’s an annual battle for the northern territory.

“This year, we were able to actually open all schools as scheduled and on time without closing classes,” explains Tracey MacMillan, Nunavut’s assistant deputy of education.

And that’s a major improvement over previous years.

MacMillan says the short-term fix is to stretch the school’s non-teaching staff, and have them cover classrooms as well.

“Vice principals or principals, they may be reassigned to teach classes. Or teachers who do not have a homeroom – such as student support teachers or learning coaches – they may be assigned a homeroom,” she says.

Regional hubs like Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet are only a few teachers short, while more remote communities have a harder time recruiting and retaining teachers.

Hall Beach, Cambridge Bay, Arctic Bay and Clyde River account for most of the vacancies.

Moving to a fly in community – with notoriously high food prices and infamously slow internet – can be a hard sell to a young teacher.

However; for the right kind of person, a small Nunavut community can be life-changing experience.

“Working in Nunavut, you have amazing opportunities, to work with our students, experience a vibrant culture,” explains MacMillan.

She recently returned to Iqaluit after a stint in the North Baffin community of Pond Inlet.

“You have access to educational and professional development opportunities, opportunities to work and learn with our students, with our elders.”

It is easier to convince someone to stay in Nunavut than it is to convince them to move here. That’s why the department’s recruitment efforts are growing to reach their most available audience – Nunavut students themselves.

“We have reached out, this past May, to all of our high school students in grade 10, 11 and 12, and provided them with information packages, and opportunities to see what it looks like to become a teacher and what that pathway may look like,” MacMillan says.

Video Journalist / Iqaluit

Kent has been APTN’s Nunavut correspondent since 2007. In that time he has closely covered Inuit issues, including devolution and the controversial Nutrition North food subsidy. He has also worked for CKIQ-FM in Iqaluit and as a reporter for Nunavut News North.