Original Published on Aug 31, 2022 at 22:51

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Pairing retired teachers with beginner French-language educators is being touted as a way to address attrition and boost confidence in Manitoba’s K-12 workforce.

The local branch of Canadian Parents for French is searching for volunteers to coach fresh-faced teachers in français and French-immersion streams — both of which are in high demand in the province — throughout 2022-23.

In Gilbert Le Néal’s experience, the learning curve between finishing teacher’s college and overseeing a cohort of students as a new working teacher is “very, very, very steep.”

“You are under pressure from students, from parents and from administration,” said Le Néal, a retired teacher and board member at CPF’s Manitoba chapter. “And when requests are placed on young teachers, they won’t refuse. They often take on more than what they can handle.”

At the same time, the career educator noted French-language educators have access to far fewer resources than their colleagues starting out in English programs.

Long-standing concerns about French-language teacher retention were highlighted in a recent exploratory study conducted out of Université de Saint-Boniface’s education faculty.

The report, published earlier this year, concludes an overwhelming workload and sense of isolation leads français and French-immersion teachers to quit their jobs not long after they start them — in turn, compounding an existing teacher shortage. Among the researchers’ recommendations is a call to action to create more formal mentorship programs to support beginner teachers’ arrivals.

A surge in demand for French immersion over the last decade has caused a severe staffing shortage, said Janet Steinthorson, executive director of the CPF’s Manitoba branch.

While French-immersion enrolment has spiked 47 per cent and the francophone district has recorded a 19 per cent increase, Manitoba’s English programs have grown by only two per cent.

“If you don’t have (staff) continuity, that’s a detriment to the delivery of the program and not only does it affect parents, but students are the ones who pay the price for it,” said Steinthorson.

“I’m a strong believer in consistency and structure — and I think if you have that, then you can have success.”

The national association representing French-language school boards across Canada estimates six per cent of teachers in francophone-minority schools exit the profession within five years of being hired.

In order to get a more comprehensive understanding of the shortage of francophone and French second-language teachers, Canadian Heritage has partnered with numerous national stakeholders to create a database to collect, house and share data about the issue.

Le Néal, who has worked in English, French-immersion and français roles, said he wants to leverage the expertise of retired educators to address the problem on a local level. He has already signed up to offer his services to help beginner colleagues learn how to navigate a tough adjustment to working life in Manitoba schools.

A mentor can have experience in any education stream, said Le Néal, noting the initiative is not about language or subject expertise, but rather “how to teach, teaching strategies and how best to cope.”

“This would be an independent ear (without connection to a mentee’s workplace),” he added.

The advocacy organization, whose mandate is to promote opportunities for youth to become bilingual, is launching the mentorship initiative under its existing Teach in French program. CPF’s role will be akin to a matchmaker, with organizers pairing up complementary educators and allowing them to book sessions to fit their schedules. The organization will supply mentors with resources to guide their work.

Communications officer Alexandra Dénommée said the initiative is an opportunity for retired educators to give back and keep their foot in the door in the education system.

The organizers plan to facilitate the first mentor-mentee relationships between October and May.

This item reprinted with permission from Free Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba