Canadian English language sector battles teacher shortage

Published 26/08/2022

As Canada’s language sector begins to recover from the pandemic, it faces a new challenge – a shortage of English-language teachers.

In its annual report, Languages Canada said that about one in five schools had difficulty attracting suitable candidates for job openings and that there was a disparity between salary expectations and what schools are offering.

“The current day context of increased costs is the most severe financial pressure our members have experienced,” said Languages Canada executive director Gonzalo Peralta. “Teacher salaries have increased, as have all other costs – classroom space, travel, activities and housing.”

For teacher salaries, there’s a dramatic difference between private language schools and ESL programs offered at public colleges and universities. In the public sector, teachers are usually unionised and salaries are higher. For example, full-time instructors in colleges in Ontario earn between $44,000 and $75,000, depending on their qualifications and experience.

On the other hand, a glance through ESL teacher job listings in Montréal shows that many private schools, some of which are not Languages Canada members, are offering only $18 to $24 per hour. That’s just a few dollars above the Québec minimum wage of $14.25, which is usually paid to retail clerks and fast-food employees.

Zachary Haché, a former classroom teacher who still works in the language sector in Montréal, said even those modest hourly rates are deceptive. He told The PIE News that many schools expect teachers to prepare lessons and mark assignments in their own time, reducing the actual hourly rate paid.

Haché explained that a number of programs in Montréal can no longer attract native speakers to teach ESL.

“The majority of the workforce of first-year teachers are non-native speakers who are recent immigrants to Canada,” he said. “These teachers are more vulnerable and more easily exploited. They also need more time to prepare their lessons.”

“These teachers are more vulnerable and more easily exploited”

The result? Haché stated there is a huge turnover of teachers at private schools every year.

In British Columbia, Global Village Victoria says it pays well to attract and retain top teachers. While board chair John Taplin declined to disclose hourly rates, he said, “We do know that GV pays its teachers at the top of the range for teachers in the Canadian private language sector.

“Our goal is to move wages ahead so that all our staff can afford to keep up with inflation,” he added.

GV Victoria is opening a school in Calgary this fall.

“The reality for all involved in the language sector is that we have to balance optimism with the concern that other letters of the Greek alphabet (Covid variants) might still appear in our lives,” Taplin continued.

One of the challenges that both schools and teachers must address is the seasonal variation in the Canadian language market. Before the pandemic, many schools were jammed with students in the summer, but the other seasons have proven less popular.

Private schools usually must lease classroom space for the entire year, even though it may sit empty for several months. This makes it tough for them to make a solid profit.

Teachers face the same issue. Classroom hours can be full-time during the busy summer months but be cut to part-time in the off-season. It’s hard for teachers to budget their personal expenses when they don’t know how many hours they will be working each month.

Higher costs are weighing on member schools, Peralta said. “This is forcing many members to increase, or consider increasing, prices and working with partners to reduce costs and/or provide additional value added where possible.”

Languages Canada is concerned that teachers are leaving to take more lucrative jobs in other fields. “We are competing with other sectors and industries and are only part of an enormous shift in employment culture in Canada as a whole,” Peralta added.

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