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Recruitment and Retention of Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in BC Public Schools

BCTF Research
May 11, 2018

Acknowledgements

The BCTF Research Department wishes to acknowledge the following individuals for their peer review and contributions to this report:

Dr. Joanna Cannon, Associate Professor, UBC Faculty of Education, Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program

Pam Guilbault, Itinerant Teacher for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Greater Victoria School District

Dr. Janet Jamieson, UBC Faculty of Education: Co-Director, Program in Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Director, Institute for Early Childhood Education and Research

Rhena Tevendale, Itinerant Teacher for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, North Vancouver School District, Past President of CAEDHH-BC

Fiona Young, Itinerant Teacher for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Cowichan Valley School District

Summary

As a significant number of British Columbia’s Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ToDHHs) reach retirement eligibility in the coming decade, a robust program of educational, economic and workplace-related policy actions will be vital to attracting and retaining qualified new ToDHHs in BC public schools. In Spring 2018, the BCTF Research Department analysed the results of a provincial survey of current ToDHHs, as well as a broad range of public policy documents relating to deaf and hard of hearing learners, and ToDHHs’ training and qualifications, job responsibilities, and working conditions.

This report presents research findings to inform how education policy might be leveraged to diminish or remove significant recruitment and retention barriers, and address inadequate working and professional learning provisions for ToDHHs. The study invites further dialogue regarding what strategic improvements would ensure that BC’s public school system continues to fulfill its mandate to provide all learners with equitable and inclusive education from qualified specialist teachers. 

Key findings

The study identified various educational and employment challenges for BC’s Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Credentialing and Hiring Practices

  • inconsistencies between national, provincial and local policy documents regarding required credentials and qualifications for ToDHHs
  • varied understanding and representation of specialist teachers’ work in general, and the unique responsibilities of ToDHHs in particular
  • the potential negative impact of vague employment posting language and content on recruitment of specialist teachers

Recruitment and Retention Barriers

  • high cost and lengthy period of initial qualification for ToDHH specialist professional preparation
  • limited availability and access to graduate specialist programs in Education of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  • limited availability and access to Teacher Regulation Branch-approved alternative certification programs and pathways for Deaf/Hard of Hearing candidates to acquire initial teacher certification.       
  • inadequate salaries for both early and later career ToDHHs in BC public schools relative to other Canadian jurisdictions
  • precarious employment (i.e. term/part time assignments; unclear assignment conditions)
  • limited or inaccessible mentorship and professional development provisions

Employment provisions

  • absent, inconsistent and/or untenable caseload limits
  • varied administrator/ teacher consultation mechanisms for staffing and workload
  • inadequate professional development access and funding
  • inconsistent transportation/travel compensation and insurance allowances
  • varied time allotments for preparation, administrative tasks, staff meeting attendance, and collaboration/consultation time with classroom teachers. 

Introduction

As a significant number of BC’s Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ToDHHs) reach retirement eligibility, various educational, economic, and workplace-related barriers persist for attracting and training newly qualified ToDHHs and securing adequate professional conditions for current specialist teachers in BC public schools. A recently published BC Ministry of Education taskforce report (2017b) on immediate teacher recruitment and retention pressures includes several promising general recommendations that may address some of these challenges. These include enhancing teacher education funding for specialist educators, increasing salary allowances, and expanding mentorship provisions. However, the report acknowledges “data on demand for and supply of specialty positions is not comprehensive or robust” (p. 19).

Given the highly specialized nature and small number of ToDHHs in relation to the general teaching population, addressing specific policy and funding impediments is essential for ensuring the BC public school system continues to fulfill its mandate to provide deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) learners with equitable access to instruction from qualified specialist teachers within adequately staffed and sustainably resourced inclusive classroom and specialist school settings. Therefore, this research report endeavours to inform ongoing dialogue and advocacy regarding 1) potential ToDHH recruitment and retention strategies and 2) improvements to their working and professional development conditions.

Background

BC’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Learners

According to the BC Ministry of Education’s Special Education Services policy manual (2016), a student is designated as “deaf or hard of hearing” (Category F) if they have “medically diagnosed hearing loss that results in a substantial educational difficulty” (p. 79), which includes “bilateral hearing loss, a unilateral loss with significant speech/language delay, or a cochlear implant” (ibid.). Students are designated as “deafblind” (i.e., Category B) if they are assessed with:

“a degree of visual and auditory impairment which, when compounded, results in significant difficulties in developing communicative, educational, vocational, avocational, and social skills. To be considered deafblind the student’s vision and auditory impairments can range from partial sight to total blindness and from moderate to profound hearing loss” (p. 66).

In 2016–17, there were a total of 1,052 DHH and 67 deafblind students with Ministry of Education designations across British Columbia’s public schools (Ministry of Education, 2017a). The prevalence rate of Category F students in BC’s general K–12 student population has decreased overall in the past decade, while the Category B incident rate has increased slightly.

However, the assumption that the incidence rate of BC students who are deaf or hard of hearing is decreasing may be inaccurate. Statistics tracked by the BC Early Hearing Program reflect no change in the numbers of babies born with hearing loss. Based on estimated prevalence rates, it is expected that congenital hearing loss is reported to occur in between one and three of every 1,000 births. With approximately 42,000 infants born in BC each year, it is estimated between 80 and 125 infants will be born each year with some degree of hearing loss (Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2014, p. 8). Possible factors that could contribute to an apparent slight decrease in Ministry of Education designation figures include: 1) a persistent lack of ToDHH staffing required to accurately assess and designate students; 2) an increase in the incidence of students who have a primary designation in another category where the hearing loss becomes a secondary designation—and, therefore, not reflected in Ministry numbers; 3) inconsistent/shifting definitions of criteria throughout the province and over time. In addition, there has been limited to no tracking of consultative DHH students in inclusive settings in the province, such as those students with unilateral loss, fluctuating loss, or minimal loss who require service and support from a ToDHH.

graph1graph2

Source: Analysis and Reporting Unit, Ministry of Education. (2017). Student Headcount by Special Needs Category. Retrieved from catalogue.data.gov.bc.ca/dataset/student-headcount-by-special-needs-category).

Advances in screening, medical procedures and technology “do not lessen the need to provide every deaf child with the full range of options—including Sign language—for acquiring linguistic competence” and “to grow up bilingual and bicultural” within deaf and hearing communities (Canadian Association of the Deaf, 2015). Further, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities includes the rights to “quality education to the highest level desired,” “communication and information,” and “the right to the language of their choice, including Sign language” (Ibid.). Given current projections of increasing student enrolment in BC public schools to 2025 (BC Stats, 2016), the overall demand for qualified ToDHHs to support a diverse population of DHH learners and meet BC’s public schools’ mandate to provide equitable and inclusive access to education, is not anticipated to decrease significantly for the foreseeable future:

graph3

Source: BCTF Research, drawing on prevalence rates from Analysis and Reporting Unit, Ministry of Education. (2017). Student Headcount by Special Needs Category. Retrieved from catalogue.data.gov.bc.ca/dataset/student-headcount-by-special-needs-category).

Assuming either a consistent or slightly decreasing prevalence rate in the coming decade, the overall number of DHH students requiring specialist teacher instruction and support is anticipated to increase or remain close to current levels within BC’s public education system.

BC Teachers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Learners

Qualifications

Certified ToDHHs are among the most highly specialized educators in BC schools. According to Ministry of Education (MOE) guidelines (Ministry of Education, 2016), a ToDHH specialist teacher should possess both a valid BC teaching certificate and “a Master’s degree or diploma in the education of the deaf and hard of hearing and eligibility for certification by the Canadian Association of Educators of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CAEDHH)” (p. 82). In addition, school districts are advised to employ specialist teachers with “appropriate qualifications to support students who need services after they have had surgery for cochlear implantation” (ibid.).

CAEDHH is the national organization that grants professional certification status for ToDHHs intending to practise in Canada. CAEDHH’s recently revised Specialist Certification Standards (2016), which reflect similar requirements in the United States and United Kingdom, outline professional preparation standards for curriculum content and practicum requirements[1]. CAEDHH standards are intended to ensure a “minimum measure of professional knowledge and skills” for specialist personnel working with DHH learners (CAEDHH, 2018). CAEDHH’s Statement of Values (2016), advocates for “the hiring of trained teacher-specialists (CAEDHH-certified teachers or equivalent) as the most appropriate educational specialist personnel to work with school-age students who are D/deaf or hard of hearing” (p. 3).

There are currently three Canadian post-secondary institutions offering graduate programs in deaf and hard of hearing studies that meet the certification standards of the CAEDHH:

American Sign Language courses are required for acceptance to the UBC and York University programs.

Responsibilities

According to MOE guidelines, BC’s ToDHHs’ responsibilities include designing and supporting students’ learning programs—incorporating components such as language development, auditory management, speech development, speech reading, sign language and deaf culture. ToDHHs provide instruction and assessment for students as outlined in individualized education plans (IEPs) in addition to addressing the direct effects of hearing loss (Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 80). Further to the above responsibilities, ToDHHs address aspects of social and emotional development affected by the students’ hearing loss, as well as directly teaching self-advocacy skills that help students succeed in educational and community settings.

Service Delivery Models

BC has one provincial site-based school for K—12 deaf and hard of hearing students, housing the BC School for the Deaf (BCSD) and Provincial Oral Program, located at Burnaby South Secondary and South Slope Elementary School. In addition, the BC Provincial Outreach Program (POPDHH), operating out of Burnaby, collaborates with school districts to provide “educational consultation, programming and support” to meet the needs of DHH Learners through collaborative consultation with school district staff. The POPDHH is a member of BCDEC (BC Deaf Education Committee), which determines eligibility for entrance into the BC School for the Deaf, or the Provincial Oral Program.

The majority of BC’s ToDHHs work as itinerant specialist teachers—providing instruction, training and consultation by travelling to students at various schools within a district or multiple districts, as opposed to a site-based model. MOE policy states that “most students who are deaf or hard of hearing can and should be educated in their local school district” (p. 81) and should receive “an individual program” and “direct, frequent support from a qualified itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing” when receiving instruction in a “regular” classroom (p. 81). Acknowledging that prevalence, or prevalence of Category F and B students, is relatively low within the general BC student population, MOE policy also advises “where a district is unable to employ a specialist teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, this requirement may be met by providing services through sharing arrangements with adjacent districts or through a fee-for-service arrangement with qualified specialist teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing” (p. 82). There are a small number of site-based resource room programs in BC providing specialized instruction to students with hearing loss.

Analysis

Methodology

In January 2018, two BCTF members, who are themselves teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing in BC, approached the BCTF Research Department for assistance with interpreting the results of a province-wide survey they conducted. In addition, they sought advice about how to mobilize their findings to advocate for improved working and training/professional development for ToDHHs, as well as addressing a looming staff shortage due to anticipated retirements of experienced specialist teachers.

Research Department staff analyzed the survey results and consulted the following relevant policy documents for additional information about caseload guidelines and working conditions:

  • public policy documents and research literature addressing ToDHHs’ education and certification requirements, BC teacher and student demographic statistics, deaf and hard of hearing student profiles, teaching responsibilities and pedagogical approaches, working conditions and job satisfaction
  • provincial and local collective agreement language relating to specialist and itinerant teachers
  • BC Ministry of Education qualifications guidelines and recent job descriptions posted by BC school districts
  • interviews/email correspondence with a CAEDHH representative and three BCTF members currently employed as ToDHHs.

Survey Findings

Using the SurveyMonkey platform, the teachers distributed the survey on behalf of CAEDHH-BC, the provincial chapter of CAEDHH, in Fall 2017. The survey drew 85 responses (n=85) from across BC, with 76 of those coming from public schools and 9 from independent schools[2]. Among the key findings:

  • The average full-time equivalent (FTE) position of respondents was 0.75, with 56% of respondents indicating they were currently holding a full-time (1.0 position), and 25% filling positions of 0.5 FTE or less.
  • 37% of respondents indicated there were unfilled ToDHH positions in their district at the time of the survey.
  • Over 22% of respondents indicated they are within 2 years of eligibility for retirement, while just under 40% indicated they are eligible for retirement within the next five years.

The survey does not distinguish between whether respondents are in temporary or continuing assignments. However, an analysis of sample job descriptions below indicates ToDHH positions are often initially posted as temporary and less than full-time, which—coupled with lower than national average starting salaries[3] and higher than national average costs of living—compound BC school districts’ inability to attract and retain qualified ToDHHs.

Regarding working conditions, key survey findings include:

  • 21% of respondents were employed in more than one district.
  • 14% drove more than 500 km a month for work-related responsibilities (and 40% between 200–499 km a month).
  • 14 was the average caseload of Category F students taught/supported.
  • 3.5 was the average caseload of non-Category F students additionally taught/supported.
  • 10 was the average number of audio systems managed for Category F students.
  • 7 was the average number of personal FM/soundfield systems managed for non-designated or other students.

To provide a comparative example from another jurisdiction, in a recent national survey of 495 ToDHH participants across the United States (Luckner & Dorn, 2017), 38% of respondents reported a caseload of between 7–12 students, while 18% worked with 13–18 students. In addition, 60% indicated they provided additional consultation services for one to six students (p. 338). Of those surveyed, 59% indicated they were ToDHHs who were site-based in elementary, secondary, and other settings, while 41% were itinerant ToDHHs. This comparison suggests that BC ToDHHs’ caseloads are slightly higher than their American counterparts. This may provide some guidelines for establishing provincial or local caseload limits in future bargaining consultations. However, as the majority of BC’s ToDHHs are itinerant, not site-based, the provision of equitable services is more challenging.

Collective Agreement Provisions

ToDHHs working and professional development conditions are governed by provincial and local collective agreement provisions. However, the past fifteen years have been characterized by underfunding and the unconstitutional stripping of learning conditions from collective agreements. Although class size and composition limits were reinstated in 2016, there is a wide range of ToDHH staffing and working provisions within collective agreements across the province. While a comprehensive discussion of collective agreement provisions across BC’s sixty school districts is beyond the scope of this report, some provisions are highlighted below to provide precedents and exemplar language that may inform dialogue regarding ToDHH working conditions: caseload, IEP development and consultation, and itinerant instruction.

Caseload

An analysis of caseload language across local collective agreements produced a range of between 8 (e.g., SD 61 Greater Victoria) and 28 (e.g., SD 36 Surrey) students per teacher. In some cases, the number is determined by a teacher to student ratio that depends on the designation. In some cases, such as SD10 (Arrow Lakes), caseload is determined by assigning 0.1 FTE to every student, effectively creating a caseload limit of 10. However, it is questionable as to whether these limits are being respected, given the survey results discussed above.

In addition to setting particular numerical (quantitative) limits on caseload, some contracts also contain provisions for consultation and consideration of other factors affecting the teaching assignment such as “equitable distribution of workload” (SD 87 Stikine, Article D.1) and “personal preference of the teacher” (SD 93 Conseil Scolaire Francophone, Article E.5). Given both the sparse and dynamic nature of the DHH student population—particularly in smaller or more remote school districts—it appears a combination of numerical caseload limits and administrator/teacher consultation mechanisms may both be required when negotiating workload provisions and allocating staffing and student services.

IEP Development and Consultation

The responsibilities of ToDHHs include development of students’ individualized education plans and, where applicable, supporting the inclusion of DHH students into classroom settings with non-specialist teachers. Local collective agreements commonly contain release time provisions for IEP development and consultation with classroom teachers, and pre-service and in-service professional development for teachers receiving DHH students. The BCTF’s Collective Bargaining Handbook (2011) indicates the employer should “provide inservice…during instructional hours” as well as “joint training” for the classroom teacher and special education teacher assistants “in collaborative skills and strategies for successful learning” (p.78). However, ToDHHs interviewed during this research process reported creating IEPs with minimal collaboration and meeting with teachers during lunch hour or after school hours to discuss students’ pedagogical needs and their own professional development concerns.

Itinerant Teaching

Most BC ToDHHs work as itinerant district staff, commuting between multiple school sites to teach students. Common provisions for itinerant teachers include: inclusion of travel time as total instructional time; travel expense reimbursement; access to phone, computer, work space, supplies, storage, and clerical time at each assignment location; and attending staff meetings (e.g., SD 64 Gulf Islands, Article D.11). Agreements vary in their level of detail with regard to these provisions (e.g., specifying “reasonable access” to work space and storage facilities [SD 35 Langley]; attending staff meetings “whenever practicable” [SD 6 Rocky Mountain]; or specifying exact mileage allowances [SD 28 Quesnel]).  

Employment Postings

Prospective applicants for ToDHH positions in BC schools most frequently consult assignment postings on school district websites, or the provincial website, Make A Future, the official recruitment website of BC’s sixty public boards of education, the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), and the Ministry of Education.

Five sample ToDHH postings from five different school districts, from 2014 to 2018, were analyzed to assess how assignments are described and represented according to five criteria:

  • position title
  • FTE (full-time equivalent) amount
  • duration of contract
  • qualifications
  • job responsibilities.

Document analysis indicates several inconsistencies in how school districts describe the positions, qualifications and responsibilities of ToDHHs, including the official titles used (e.g., Hearing Resource Teacher, Teacher of the Hard of Hearing) to the range of contractual conditions initially offered—including unclear or unspecified FTE amounts and assignment duration. While one advertisement clearly indicates how and when a continuing position will increase from 0.6 to 1.0 FTE, for example, another posting vaguely states the part-time position had “potential for a full-time 1.0…in the near future” (See Appendix A for a detailed analysis of each employment advertisement).

Academic qualifications are variously described as “required,” “preferred,” and “minimum.” Two of the five postings require a Masters degree in “Deaf Education,” and “education of the deaf and hard of hearing” respectively, while others describe the graduate degree as “preferred,” or one of several acceptable credentials. In some cases, a “diploma” or “certificate” or eligibility for certification by CAEDHH are considered satisfactory.

Description and content of desirable work qualifications and experience vary significantly between the sample advertisements, with the briefest providing no description beyond academic credentials, while another provides extensively detailed descriptions of potential applicants’ experience with IEP creation and management, instructional and behavioural strategy development, experience with students with cochlear implants and sound systems, and knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL).

Two of the five advertisements provide detailed descriptions of the job responsibilities associated with the DHH specialist assignment, while the others offer no additional information.

Significantly, most postings do not provide details regarding travel requirements/allowances for itinerant teachers, or any potential mentorship or other professional development supports, as possible recruitment incentives.

While this limited analysis of randomly sampled employment advertisements cannot be generalized, it does point to several potentially concerning issues, particularly within the context of these current recruitment and retention challenges:

  • inconsistencies between national, provincial, and local policy documents regarding required credentials and qualifications for ToDHHs
  • varied understanding and representation of specialist teachers’ work in general, and the unique responsibilities of ToDHHs in particular
  • the potential negative impact of vague employment posting language and content on recruitment of potential specialist teachers.

Some BC school districts appear to be communicating conflicting, limited, or unclear criteria in their publicly circulated employment postings about the roles of specialist teachers, terms of employment, and the required credentials necessary to apply for and successfully undertake a position teaching DHH students.  

Conclusion

This report has summarized key issues related to the work of BC’s Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. First, the preceding analysis points to several significant recruitment and retention barriers, including:

  • high cost and lengthy period of initial qualification for ToDHH specialist professional preparation
  • limited availability and access to graduate specialist programs in Education of the deaf/hard of hearing
  • limited availability and access to Teacher Regulation Branch-approved alternative certification programs and pathways for teacher candidates of the deaf/hard of hearing to acquire initial teacher certification
  • inadequate salaries for both early and later career ToDHHs in BC public schools relative to other Canadian jurisdictions
  • precarious employment (i.e., term/part-time assignments; unclear assignment conditions)
  • and limited or inaccessible mentorship and professional development provisions.

Second, this report points to specific provisions that might be addressed in future collective bargaining to improve ToDHHs’ working and professional learning conditions, including:

  • caseload limits
  • administrator/ teacher consultation mechanisms for staffing and workload
  • professional development access and funding
  • standardized language and terms for employment descriptions and postings
  • qualifications, training requirements, and credentialing pathways
  • transportation/travel compensation and insurance allowances
  • time allotments for preparation, administrative tasks, staff meeting attendance, collaboration/consultation time with classroom teachers.

Moving forward, some questions for further discussion include:

What policies and structures might be leveraged to diminish or remove existing barriers to recruitment and retention of ToDHHs?

What organizational structures, mechanisms, and networks might be leveraged with the aim of improving ToDHHs’ working and professional conditions?

What policies can be implemented provincially to create consistent and equitable caseload limits for both site-based and itinerant ToDHHs throughout the diverse regions of the province?

References

BC Ministry of Education. (2016). Special education services: A manual of policies, procedures and guidelines. Victoria, Canada: BC Ministry of Education. Retrieved from www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/kindergarten-to-grade-12/inclusive/special_ed_policy_manual.pdf.

BC Ministry of Education. (2017a). Student headcount by special needs category. Victoria, Canada: Ministry of Education Analysis and Reporting Unit. Retrieved from catalogue.data.gov.bc.ca/dataset/student-headcount-by-special-needs-category.

BC Ministry of Education. (2017b). The Minister’s taskforce on immediate recruitment and retention challenges. Retrieved from www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/kindergarten-to-grade-12/uploads/task_force_report.pdf.

BC Stats. (2016). Projection report for public school aged headcount enrolments (excludes adults) 2015/16. Victoria, Canada: Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. Retrieved from www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/resource-management/capital-planning/archive/1558b-2015.pdf.

British Columbia Teachers Federation. (2011). Collective Bargaining Handbook. Vancouver: Canada.

CAEDHH. (2016). Specialist Certification Standards. Retrieved from www.caedhhbc.com/membership-2/certification.

CAEDHH. (2018). Certification. Retrieved from www.caedhhbc.com/membership-2/certification.

Canadian Association of the Deaf. (2015). Cochlear implants. Retrieved from cad.ca/issues-positions/cochlear-implants/.

Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2014). Child and youth health and well-being indicators project: Appendix K—Indicator technical and methodology documentation. Retrieved from www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/about-bc-s-health-care-system/office-of-the-provincial-health-officer/reports-publications/special-reports/appendix_k_-_technical_documentation.pdf.

Luckner, J. & Dorn, B. (2017). Job satisfaction of teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 22 (3), 336–345. 

Appendix A: Analysis of Sample BC School District Employment Postings (2014–18)



[1] According to CAEDHH guidelines, candidates must complete a “minimum 400-hour (ten week) practicum. At least three hundred and twenty (320) hours of the practicum will consist of face-to-face teaching and direct engagement with students. The 400-hour experience may include up to 80 hours of structured, directed observation that is professionally supervised…The 400 hours must be fully documented, clarify placements, document supervision and achievement, and describe student-teacher roles” (CAEDHH, 2016, p. 16).

[2] To determine an overall survey response rate, BCTF Research staff submitted a Freedom of Information request to the BC Ministry of Education to obtain the total number of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teachers currently employed in BC. The request remains unfulfilled, with the MOE responding it does not keep province-wide figures enumerating specific specialist teacher categories.

[3] Statistics Canada. (2017). Annual statutory teachers’ salaries in public institutions, by level of education taught and teaching experience, Canadian dollars, Canada, provinces and territories, 2014/2015. Retrieved from www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-604-x/2017001/t/tbld2.1-eng.htm.

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