THUNDER BAY - As education students near graduation and start to look toward teaching opportunities, more and more are looking north, because, according to university officials, that’s where the jobs are.
“The further you go from large urban centres, that’s where the jobs are,” said Teresa Socha, chair of undergraduate studies in the faculty of Education at Lakehead University.
On Wednesday, Lakehead University held its annual education career fair, which included 38 education employers from across Canada and the world.
Christina Buzzi, student success advisor with Lakehead University, said there appears to be a growing need for teachers overseas and in parts of western Canada.
“The labour market was getting a little full in Ontario and for a while we didn’t see many southern Ontario boards coming up, but now we do have a couple here this year,” she said. “It looks like there is starting to be a bit more of a need.”
While the job market for teachers is not quite as saturated as it was in the past, graduating teachers are still finding it difficult to land a full-time positions in school boards in southern Ontario and larger urban centres.
Melody Zeagman, a fifth year education student at Lakehead, who is from southern Ontario, said her number one choice for finding a job is near her home, but she recognizes that she may have to look elsewhere.
“There are a lot of people who don’t find work in southern Ontario, so they do teach in northern Ontario, especially in remote communities,” she said. “And they love it. I know some people who have stayed there for the last couple of years. It’s become their home.”
Zeagman added that Thunder Bay already feels north and remote to her, so she may direct her search to the United Kingdom.
However, new teachers who are looking for a challenge should consider teaching up north according to one teacher who has been there for the last year and a half.
Erik Streufert, a graduate of the education program at Queen’s University who is now an outdoor education teacher at John C Yesno Education Centre in Fort Hope in the Eabametoong First Nation, said he wanted to take his teaching career north because not only were there more opportunities, but it provided him with the challenge he was looking for.
“I wanted to find a teaching position where I would be challenged to do the best pedagogy I could and also find a community that had a good relationship with me as well,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere I could make a difference but I could also learn just as much from the community members and the school as well.”
Streufert said when he was looking for teaching positions, he found more opportunities in northern Ontario than southern Ontario.
Nick Shaver, the PASS (Pathways to Achieve Student Success) administrator with the Matawa First Nation Management education department, said more and more teachers are starting their careers in remote and First Nation communities.
“We have attracted a lot of teachers from Southern Ontario, but a large portion do come out of the north, either Nipissing or Lakehead University,” he said. “And I think the numbers are growing.”
Socha said this year, six education students from Lakehead are doing their placements in Pikangikum First Nation, and in past years, there have been more than 16 students in a given year seeking placements in remote northern communities.
“We’re trying to promote it as best we can,” Socha said. “Now in the two year program in our last placement in the second year, we have something called alternative placement, promoting opportunities for students to go up north.”
According to Shaver, teachers are moving north because that’s where the jobs are and with more and more new graduates unable to find work at other boards, new teachers are looking elsewhere.
“The Ontario College of Teachers have cut a lot of admittance into teaching faculties because there are a lot of teachers in Ontario not finding jobs in their home boards,” he said. “The First Nation communities are where the jobs are right now. They are definitely hiring a lot more than public boards would be.”
For some new graduates, moving to remote communities can be a difficult choice. Shaver said retention among new teachers varies, with some teachers staying for nine years, like he did, while others stay only one year.
“We do have other communities where they have had very good retention rates,” he said. “Obviously the further north you go and the more remote it is, the more difficult it is to get home when you want to get home or need to get home, so that affects retention as well.”
Streufert said he wasn’t too worried when he made the decision to travel to Fort Hope, a community 361 kilometres north of Thunder Bay with a population of 1,144.
“I made sure when I was going up north that I had a system of support with friends and family down south and then also making connections within the community, knowing that if I had an issue, I could find people I could talk to about it,” he said.
Streufert added new teachers looking for a challenge and who want to learn just as much as they teach, should consider a position in Northern Ontario.
“If you are willing to be part of the community and not just go there for a job, northern communities can be very rewarding and you can learn so much about yourself and the communities you are a part of,” he said. “I will always feel that Fort Hope is home to me.”