New condensed training programs to address school staff shortages amid COVID-19 pandemic

Red River College’s (RRC) new condensed training programs are aimed at tackling shortages in Manitoba’s education workforce due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A staffing shortage in Manitoba’s classrooms has been acknowledged by the provincial government. Schools have reported challenges in staffing both larger, socially-distanced in-person classrooms and remote-learning environments.

Current educators have taken on these and additional responsibilities, such as ensuring students are physically distancing and wearing face masks. 

Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) president James Bedford described the situation as “very challenging and hugely workload-intensive for teachers.” 

He noted that though Grade 12 provincial exams have been suspended, there has been little done to accommodate the extra workloads. 

“We’re doing all this stuff on the fly,” Bedford said. “So, are people exhausted? Yeah, they’re exhausted. Are they frustrated because we’re having to go along and make interpretations of public health orders? Yeah […] it’s tough.”  

Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, noted that within schools, “instructional resources such as teachers and educational assistants remain in highest demand.”

“In some instances, self-isolation precautions also take staff away from their regular duties,” Campbell said. “This means that substitute and casual staff levels have also increased considerably in order for school divisions to mitigate any disruption to student learning.” 

In collaboration with the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents and funded by the provincial government, RRC has developed condensed programs intended to address this need for temporary educators. 

Two tuition-free, instructor-led courses are set to begin Jan. 25. They aim to quickly train new school division hires to take on roles within the classroom through online training offered in both English and French. 

The educational assistant essentials training focuses on providing educational assistant training to candidates. 

The basic classroom skills for limited teaching permit holders training is intended to train non-teacher candidates to fulfill the role of classroom teacher. Hiring non-teachers to fulfil teaching roles through limited teaching permits is a well-established practice that has preceded COVID-19. 

However, Aileen Najduch, RRC’s executive director of community and student services, said that there is still an important distinction between conventional training and RRC’s condensed programs. 

“We are clearly saying these are uncertified teachers during unusual times,” said Najduch. “The authority that they are given is time-limited and special authority. They are not regular teachers.”

Instead, according to Campbell, the programs are intended to “help meet an acute need during a challenging period caused by a virus that will hopefully see its end sometime later this year.”

From the Manitoba Teacher’s Society, Bedford believes that the programs will be good for this year.

He believes staffing shortages within the school system will continue for some time, noting that a proportion of teachers have indicated a desire to leave the profession and hopes these condensed RRC programs may be entry points for future teachers. 

“Will this open the door for some of these individuals to say ‘Hey, I think I’d like to pursue an education degree. I’d like to become a professional teacher’? If that happens, I think that’s a great thing.”