David Maclellan was surprised when an email popped into his inbox this week asking him to come back to work.
The Ontario College of Teachers was asking former and retired members to step back into the classroom due to a shortage of certified teachers.
“I thought it was an interesting offer that I’m not doing,” said Maclellan with a chuckle.
Maclellan, who retired in 2009 after teaching for 34 years, said he was stunned when he got the letter. It comes as school boards across the province are experiencing teacher shortages due to smaller class sizes, and an influx of students opting for virtual learning due to surging COVID-19 case numbers in Ontario.
“I was a bit surprised and I think it shows a lack of planning — trying to track down retired teachers almost at the end of September,” he told CBC News.
In the letter, the college encourages teachers to “pursue these new employment opportunities” with a rallying call: “In short, you are needed.”
The letter says: “Ontario is currently experiencing a shortage of certified teachers, which has been magnified by smaller class sizes during the pandemic to improve physical distancing and reduce the risks of spreading the COVID-19 virus.”
“If you have always wanted to make an impact in the lives of children and young adults, now is the time,” the letter reads.
Earlier this week, the Toronto District School Board, the province’s largest, launched online classes only to see thousands of kids left without teachers.
On Monday, the TDSB said 60,000 elementary school students had signed up for virtual learning.
The board said on Tuesday that it still needs to hire about 100 to 150 more teachers to accommodate the number of students registered for online classes.
Letter was ‘infuriating,’ retired teacher says
Jen Shapka, a retired teacher who now lives in Manitoba, described the letter as “infuriating” and “ridiculous.”
“It was, I would even go so far as to say, offensive to read that the college is putting out that messaging,” Shapka said.
“Why you would choose this moment to pay your reinstatement fee to the college, pay your annual fee to the college to go and have poor working conditions. They’re out to lunch on that one.”
The college, which licenses, governs and regulates all public school teachers and administrators in the province, has not released a tally of how many teachers have taken them up on their offer since the letter was sent out.
But Martha Foster, chair of the Retired Teachers of Ontario, said she estimates that tens of thousands of members received that email.
‘Do I want to get in there and help?’
Foster said the call to action puts retired teachers, especially senior ones, in a tricky position, forcing them to weigh the risk factor of going back into a classroom amid a pandemic that has proved deadly to patients who are over the age of 65, especially those with underlying conditions.
“Do I want to get in there and help, which has been my whole life working with kids? Or is this about me? Do I have to watch out for me?” she said.
“That’s the decision all the retired teachers are making.”
Foster said she doesn’t expect a lot of retired teachers will take up this offer — a sentiment that is shared by Shapka and Maclellan.
“I would be surprised if a lot of retired teachers wanted to plunge back in right now,” Maclellen said.
“I feel very badly for the students and the teachers being, in essence, forced back into school where I’m not totally convinced the planning is 100 per cent in place and 100 per cent safe.”
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