The Canadian education system is suffering from a significant supply and demand gap for French as a Second Language teachers. An uptick in parents looking to enroll their students in French language learning is clashing with a lack of FSL teachers in the hopper. School boards are struggling to allocate appropriate budgets for fear of being unable to fill teaching roles.
As a result, students across Canada are missing out on the ability to learn an official language, along with all of the proven lifelong cognitive, cultural, economic, and employment benefits studying in French affords them.
French teacher shortages across the country
Each year, more and more parents are looking to enroll their children in French programs due to the increased awareness of cognitive, cultural, economic, social, and employment benefits learning French can offer. Canada saw a 52% increase in French immersion enrolment from 2003 and 2013, but for most school districts and boards, the lack of supply of qualified French as a Second Language teachers restricts the ability to expand programs and keep up with the demand.
The Action Plan for Official Languages 2018-2023: Investing in Our Future created by the Federal Government commits $31.29 million to recruiting and retaining French teachers, and an objective to grow the bilingualism rate in Canada to 20% by 2036 propels the work forward. This is a step in the right direction, but the need for French teachers is still significant.
Laun Shoemaker, French Immersion teacher at St. Matthews Elementary School in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Vice President of Canadian Parents for French Newfoundland and Labrador, reflects on the impact of this gap in his classrooms.
“There’s an incredible demand for teachers out there,” he says. “I got used to, this past year, writing a [lesson] plan and leaving it in French and English just in case I couldn’t get a French supply teacher. I would not hesitate to say if you’re looking at a career in teaching, [French] will give you an entry point and a leg up on a lot of other people. We need them right now.”
With the shortage of French teachers, some schools are relying on a regular rotation of supply teachers to cover French classrooms, which means a lack of consistency—for both students and parents—and a less effective language education.
“I think where parents get frustrated is when they see steady streams of supply teachers coming through,” Shoemaker points out. “What they want to see is if a teacher is going to be away for a few days or a week, the supply teacher following them in is a complement and will be there for the duration of that time period. [Different teachers every day is] really hard on children, and it’s hard on parents, too. Expectations change, and the kids make connections with one person and then have to do the same thing the next day [with a different teacher].”
A missed opportunity for students
Beyond the value of being able to speak both of Canada’s official languages, learning French teaches students foundational life skills that translate into their personal lives and future careers. Learning a second language can improve your attention span, stimulate your brain for other areas of learning, and increase job prospects as more doors are open.
Shoemaker shares how he’s seen the power of French help students build strong inferencing skills, work together, learn problem solving skills, become more independent, and connect with people from other cultures and walks of life. In his own career, Shoemaker has used French to build strong stakeholder relationships.
“[In previous jobs], having a little bit of language was a door opener and relationship builder,” he reflects. “I had a number of Québec clients, and being able to give them a few sentences in their own language was a way I made a connection with people. They knew you were interested in them as a person because you were willing to carry on a brief conversation that respected them and their language.”
Teaching in French: a rewarding career
Inspiring future generations, building new neural pathways, and generating opportunities for future career paths are all among the rewards French teachers attribute to their roles. For Shoemaker, a career teaching French is immensely fulfilling.
“It’s awesome when children discover their language, and it’s also awesome when I have a chance to observe a parent seeing their child interacting in French,” he shares. “That’s a really moving moment because the child is doing something that, quite frequently, [the parent] can’t do.
“When you see them use that skill in context, it makes an enormous difference for both the child, who sees their parent values what they’re doing, and the parent because they go, wow, this child is able to express themselves and make a connection with somebody they wouldn’t have been able to without this experience.”
Canadian Parents for French has worked for over 40 years to advocate for French education in Canada and create equal opportunities for all children across the country to learn this language. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of a career teaching French, visit TeachInFrench.ca.
AUTHOR: Rachael Westgate (for CPF)