While Quebec’s English school boards struggle to fill classrooms, French school boards are bursting at the seams. So representatives of three French school boards in the Montreal area are off to France next week to try to find something in short supply in Quebec: teachers.

The Commission Scolaire de Montreal, Marguerite Bourgeoys School Board and Commission Scolaire Pointe de L’Ile will be part of a mission in Paris on June 1 and 2, looking to recruit teachers to La Belle Province.

All three boards are facing teacher shortages brought on by a perfect storm of retirements, people leaving the profession for other reasons such as salary and working conditions and, perhaps most significantly, an explosion in their student populations.

The Marguerite Bourgeoys School Board, or CSMB, alone says it needs a minimum of 200 new teachers a year to add to the 5,862 full and part time teachers now leading its packed classrooms.

“Three of our people are packing their bags to go to France now,” says CSMB spokesperson Gina Guillemette. “Because the pool of candidates here in Quebec is just not sufficient. So recruiting from outside the country is just one of many solutions we’re attempting to combat our current teacher shortage.”

The CSMB has approximately 75,000 students, including 2,500 new students this year. In the last few years it’s experienced a 16 per cent increase in its student population, many of them children of new immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Most of these students must enter “classes d’acceuil” or welcome classes for students who do not already speak or write in French. So the need for French-language teachers has increased dramatically. Adding to the equation is that more and more families are moving to the western part of the island, which is the CSMB’s territory.

chart: Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys

“Each year we welcome more and more students. Our numbers are rising constantly,” Guillemette says. “So the recruiting is constant too. Plus we have people taking their retirement and leaving so we have to replace those people as well.” At the same time, she says, there are just not enough people graduating from teaching programs within the province.

The CSMB is also looking at recruiting teachers from Belgium and parts of Ontario where French is spoken. And it knows it is also competing with other provinces for qualified French immersion teachers. “There is currently competition for teachers in many parts of the world. Parts of Europe and North America are also experiencing teacher shortages. It’s part of a phenomenon that is not unique to Quebec and Canada, that’s for sure,” said Guillemette.

Asked whether or not Bill 21 might influence some potential candidates’ decision to come to Quebec, Guillemette said it is difficult to assess. The bill, if passed, would ban public sector employees in positions of authority including teachers who wear the hijab, from wearing religious symbols at work. “It’s hard to know,” she said.

“The law has not been passed yet, and there are also private schools that would not be affected. So perhaps some of those candidates would look to work in the private sector, if that would be a concern for them.”

Guillemette added that foreign recruitment is just one of many strategies the board is using to increase its teaching staff. It has recently put into place a strategic plan to try to recruit and maintain as many teachers as possible. And the 200 teachers it is seeking does not even include other professionals also needed in their schools- including resource teachers, psychologists and other support staff. Some of these professions are also experiencing shortages in education, especially psychologists who are difficult to recruit to the school system.

But even if the mission, backed by the education ministry, manages to attract several teachers from France, immigration rules mean Quebec’s teachers’ shortage won’t be rectified by the fall.

“It’s certain that they won’t be here tomorrow,” said Guillemette. “But our goal is to position ourselves to let them know about us and that we have very big needs.”