Friday, April 20, 2007


J Consortium left a comment on my last post on a subject that really deserves its own post. Up to now I had been a little hesitant to comment on this but I do get questions on the subject of teacher turnover from time to time when I am back home so I thought a few comments would be in order.

First off, the reasons why teachers decide to head south are quite varied. I know for myself, the main reason why I left couple of positions was that as a rookie teacher, I simply felt overwhelmed by the new surroundings and the demands of the job. I feel though that if I was back at my first school, with the experience I have now, that I would be much better at handling things. I really did enjoy the community but at the time I had a really difficult time dealing with certain students.

I departed another community mainly due to health concerns. It was under a "boil water" advisory for almost the entire time I was there and I had picked up a rather horrid skin rash there. So of course putting health before career and moving on was the only option. (As an aside, I remember that when I would boil the water there, say for making coffee, it would leave a crusty yellow stain inside the pot...mmmm, tastey.)

At our school here, we have been fortunate the last couple years to have had a very small turnover. We have 10 southern hires, a handful of which have been here 4-5 years, which from my experience, is pretty good considering how far north we are. One is leaving to pursue a Master's degree, a couple more have spent 4 years here and are leaving because they are recently married and looking to settle down. A couple more are leaving because they are at the end of their careers. One teacher is planning to adopt yet still looks forward to teaching in Nunavut, though in a bigger community.

So as you can see, the reasons are as varied as the individual. I've tended to notice that most teachers in the north and not just Nunavut are either a) just starting out in the careers, as I was or b) seasoned staff at the end of their careers looking to do something a little different before they retire. There seems to be not as many teachers in the 30-40 age bracket like myself.

Turnover always presents a challenge but does leave opportunities for those remaining. For example, I know that with my experience level, applying for any sort of administrative position back home in Ontario would be a waste of time. Here, however, out of the 21 schools in QSO, there are 8 admin. positions that currently need to be filled. So the chances of landing something (in my case, I'm just hoping to land an interview or 2) are a bit more feasible. Within our own school, I could be wearing one of 3 different hats next year depending on how events play out - either remaining in my current high school position, teaching grade 9, as I mentioned in a previous post, or (the looooong shot), as an administrator here.

Anyhow, not to ramble on and get off-topic. The GN, of course, is aware of this problem. One solution is to hire more Inuit teachers. This subject by itself would take up a whole other post. In the meantime, I feel like I have carved out my own little niche here. After many moves in the past few years, it feels good to settle down.


towniebastard said...

You're right, the reasons do vary. I think the most common ones we hear of in this part of the arctic tend to be people wanting to move back closer to home. Or that it's not quite what they thought it would be. A lot of single people find the arctic a challenge if they're looking for a relationship.

And for people straight out of school, going to a small community can be a greater challenge than they can handle. The cold, isolation, weird daylight and expenses can be difficult to handle. So can teaching in the classroom. I'm not a teacher, but I've spent enough time around them to hear about the challenges involved in the classroom. Not everyone can handle it. Which is why I think you see the turnover.

Also remember there is plenty of turnover down south. Nunavut is just so small you noticed it a lot more quickly.

J Consortium said...

Heh, I had a feeling you would write a post in response. :) Thanks for answering. Your answer was different than I assumed...I didn't realize how many near-retirees there were.


Way Way Up said...

Very true about the high turnover pretty much everywhere in Canada. I think I've tended to notice turnover more not only because I am now in the teaching profession but also, growing up in Ontario, it always seemed in my little town that teachers hung around quite a long time. I can only ever recall during all my years of public schooling having one teacher fresh out of teachers college and that wasn't until I was well into highschool in the late 80s.

c'est moi said...

I read somewhere that the people are only staying in the profession an average of 5 to 7 years these days. It ranks up there with ambulance attendant and social workers for stress related burn out. Good luck with the future in your neck of the tundra.

Way Way Up said...

C'est moi....I remember being told something similiar to that while in teachers college. Next year I start year #8 of northern teaching so it looks like I've managed to buck a trend.

towniebastard said...

I think the 5-7 years can often be attributed to people who pick teaching as a fallback plan. My wife has known she wanted to be a teacher since she was young. There was never any doubt that's what she was going to be. For those people, then they stick with the job. She's a professional teacher.

When I was in university, I dabbled with education because that's what you did when you were getting a BA. What are you going to do with a BA in History? Why, you teach, of course.

I didn't last, of course. I wisely bailed half way through the program when I realized that I didn't have the patience to be a teacher. Too many stick with it, go to the classroom and aren't quite cut out for it. I suspect that's why you see the burnout rate at 5-7 years. Your summers off is a good inspiration to stick around for a few years, but even that loses its zing after awhile.

Way Way Up said...

Definitely agree with you there, Townie. I've come across my share of people who get into northern teaching looking for BBD(bigger, better deal) and they end up getting clobbered.

I had originally planned to do an MA in archival studies after my history BA, but they canned the program. Quite a few other were heading on to do an MA, which I considered carefully, but at the time, after 7 years of university life, I was looking for a change of scenery.