A strong demand, a lack of support which scares French teachers away
NEW research suggests beginning French language teachers are entering ‘pressure cooker’ classrooms and need relief to continue working in the K-12 sector as demand for their specialist services increases.
Marie-Élaine Desmarais of the Université de Saint-Boniface recently conducted a small exploratory study to determine why so many early-career French and French immersion educators quit their jobs shortly after starting.
“When you’re in a minority setting, you have fewer teachers right from the start, especially here in Manitoba, or in Ontario, or wherever Anglophones are dominant,” said Desmarais, principal investigator of the research project. “We can’t afford to lose them.”
According to the National Federation of Francophone School Boards (FNCSF), which represents French-language school boards across Canada, 6% of teachers in minority Francophone schools leave the profession within five years of being hired.
While that number may seem small, Desmarais said it’s significant because of both the current shortage of French and immersion teachers and the growing demand for French-language programs. It’s also on the lower scale of research estimates on the subject, she said.
Over the past decade, French immersion enrollment in Manitoba has jumped 47%, while the Francophone district has seen a 19% increase. Programs in English increased by 2% during this period.
“Francophone school boards are victims of their own success,” says a recent FNCSF report in which the organization identifies a “desperate need” for qualified educators nationwide. According to the association’s count, 60 new French schools opened in Canada between 2016 and 2021.
An associate professor who studies well-being at school, Ms Desmarais said she is determined to find out why some early-career teachers are unhappy at work, in order to prevent burnout before it gets too much. late. “We know that if the teachers (are) good at school and if he’s happy, then more than likely his students will be,” she said.
The Winnipeg-based researcher and his colleagues from across the country interviewed eight French-speaking Canadian teachers who were considering quitting or had already quit their jobs. They also recruited a range of school administrators and education faculty members.
No matter where they were, whether in New Brunswick or Manitoba, respondents shared similar difficult experiences.
One of the common themes was an overwhelming sense of responsibility, with respondents feeling immense pressure from all parties: principals, parents, students and colleagues. In Desmarais’ words, “they felt like a pressure cooker.”
The new teachers did not complain about working evenings and weekends, which they all did regularly, but rather complained of feeling isolated and unable to meet the demands placed on them to ensure that they could help all students, the researcher said.
The absence of substitute teachers and the excessive planning required to do their jobs were among other issues that wore out the participants in the work.
Although the researchers did not ask any specific questions about COVID-19, the pandemic was often brought up by respondents who indicated that it was exacerbating long-standing challenges.
When asked what would make a difference, beginning teachers indicated that they wanted more opportunities to try out strategies in the classroom and to reflect during their practicums. Upon entering the workforce, they expressed a desire to improve the sense of collegiality in school, to reduce class sizes and to develop professionally.
The Desmarais team created a list of recommendations for all stakeholders in hopes of combating high attrition.
According to their list, in order to better prepare graduates, faculties of education should increase requirements for successful internships, facilitate individual professional development plans to oversee self-management, and provide varied internship experiences.
“It’s not necessarily longer internships, it’s more efficient internships,” Desmarais said.
The suggestions call on employers to create formal coaching and mentoring programs for new hires and provide mentors with ongoing training, as well as provide professional development sessions focused on wellness for all staff. .
Desmarais also questioned why the culture in schools is to welcome freshly hired teachers with the toughest assignments and, often, ones that don’t match their expertise.
The impact of the teacher shortage is varied, but ultimately participants in the research study agreed that students and their learning are negatively affected.
“Teachers who remain in the profession are given increasingly demanding tasks. The amount of work and the expectations placed on them increase, as does their level of professional stress. Thus, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to maintain a stable and balanced level of day-to-day work functioning, as a significant amount of energy must be directed towards stress management,” reads a summary paper on the study.
The research project was funded by the Association of Canadian Francophonie Colleges and Universities as part of a federal French-language program supported by Canadian Heritage.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press