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Teachers recruited from France to meet demand for French-immersion schooling in Montreal

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Diane Leuillot is slowly getting accustomed to teaching a class of elementary school children at Edinburgh Elementary School in Montreal West.

The French-born teacher arrived in Montreal in December, with a promise of a full-time job at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB).

"I was still in university when I got an email telling me they were recruiting in Quebec," says the young woman who grew up in Calais, in the north of France.

"I've been here before, and I wanted to experience real winters, so I thought, let's try for a year!"

Most school boards in Canada struggle with recruitment.

French teachers are in especially high demand, and there aren't enough graduates to fill the vacancies -- a problem the EMSB says was compounded by a wave of retirements during COVID-19.

So the EMSB worked with consultants to find them directly in France.

"Our goal is actually three [French teachers], in order for us to see how things progress," explains human resources assistant director Darlene Kehyayan. "And now, seeing that it was successful and we're very proud, we're hoping to recruit many more."

Leuillot says the employment situation in her home country comes with its own challenges. The promise of a work permit and a job right up her alley sealed the deal.

"The paperwork was very complex, but the school board helped a lot," she says.

Edinburg principal Gaetano Sifoni says the arrival of a French teacher couldn't come soon enough.

After all, Edinburg has a much sought-after French immersion program that attracts many English and French-speaking children whose parents are intent on a bilingual education.

"We had a rotation of steady trusted substitutes for the first six weeks of the school year, so we were very fortunate to have Madame Diane join us from France," says Sifoni. "She developed a rapport very quickly with the students."

Of course, the French spoken in France is different from the French spoken in Quebec, and the Leuillot says she was first taken aback when she realized some words mean different things here.

But for the teacher, this is just a temporary hurdle that she'll easily overcome.

"Some expressions are different," she concedes, "and it's complicated at first. But they're children, they'll adapt." 

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