Wait-lists persist at Peace Arch Elementary for early French immersion.

Wait-lists persist at Peace Arch Elementary for early French immersion.

French teachers in short supply in Surrey

Record-setting enrolment in French immersion is putting Surrey School District in a staffing crunch.

Record-setting enrolment in French immersion is putting Surrey School District in a staffing crunch.

A week before the new school year began, Surrey was still in need of teachers for eight French-immersion classrooms, according to district spokesperson Doug Strachan. The district managed to fill the positions by the time doors opened Tuesday.

“French teachers are a particularly difficult group to recruit. There’s not a lot of them out there,” he said.

On Wednesday, Peace Arch News reported that wait-lists continue for early French immersion programs on the Semiahmoo Peninsula. Laronde Elementary has a waiting list of 26 for kindergarten entry and 32 for Grade 1 entry. At Peace Arch Elementary, the wait-list for early immersion is 41 for both kindergarten and Grade 1.

Strachan said the district actively recruits graduating teachers “right out of the schools, if we can,” and also attempts to lure teachers from Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.

District staff stay connected with universities, he added, noting the district has a representative on University of B.C.’s education program advisory committee.

Strachan said the district is also working with universities to encourage student teachers to specialize in French, and also encourages local high school French-immersion grads to consider a career in teaching.

Recruiting qualified French teachers isn’t the only challenge in Surrey.

“We have trouble getting enough teachers generally. It’s not just French teachers,” noted Strachan, adding the district struggles to keep a full roster of teachers on its call-in list.

A bigger challenge in offering French immersion is a lack of space to establish new programs, Strachan added.

Glyn Lewis, executive director of Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon, told PAN that growth in French-immersion participation is “pretty much consistent across the province,” and said addressing the shortage of qualified French teachers is the biggest challenge facing districts.

“The popularity of the program is putting significant pressure on the post-secondary institutions to supply enough teachers to fill all the new classrooms. This is something we’ve flagged with the provincial government and the teacher education programs.”

The scale of this challenge is huge, said Lewis, adding it’s going to take “some real concerted effort” to overcome it.

“They seem to get it, but the response is still slow-moving.”

On Wednesday, Canadian Parents for French issued a report showing French-immersion enrolment in Surrey stood at 3,398 students at the start of the school year – up from 2,768 students a decade ago. That’s a new record, according to the advocacy group, which noted province-wide enrolment has increased for 18 consecutive years, creating a shortage of qualified French language teachers.

In a letter to the province this spring, Canadian Parents for French acknowledged the Ministry of Education plans to study the issue and that France is exploring teacher exchanges with B.C., but called on the province to do more.

Canadian Parents for French is urging the province to collect better data on the demand of teachers by discipline, compel post-secondary institutions to tailor teacher-education programs with needs, better promote in-demand teaching disciplines and consider forgiving student loans to new teachers with educational backgrounds in high-demand disciplines.

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