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Teachers warned about overworking, burnout risk after first week in classrooms

FILE (iStock)

Labour groups say teachers need to go easy on themselves in transition back to school amid COVID-19

Schools seem clean and organized, say teachers’ groups, as in-class instruction resumes amid pandemic

Despite progress, more work to be done to support students with special needs

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — This week’s back to school was unlike any this province has ever seen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers have been pushing themselves to make it as safe and smooth as possible, but labour groups say they risk burnout if they push too hard.

Classrooms opened up under strict provincial guidelines that set capacity at 50 per cent or below, on Monday.

Daniel Tetrault, the first vice president of the Burnaby Teachers’ Association, says teachers are often their own toughest critics.

“Throughout this we’ve been trying to slow teachers down a little because they try to do it all and they try to do too much sometimes. That’s still the message here, is you’re not expected to do it all,” he says.

Teachers say providing online instruction to students who are likely sleeping in and struggling with motivation is a lot harder from schools than home because their shifts are less flexible, so they end up working unpaid overtime.

That shouldn’t be happening, says Jill Barclay, president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association, adding her group will monitor the numbers of students in each situation and advocate for balance.

“It’s really clear from the Ministry that teachers’ workloads should not be impacted by this and we want to really maintain that, monitor that and make sure teachers are not burning themselves out trying to do both kinds of programs right now.”

That load is going to vary district to district, depending on how each has approached allowing teachers to remain at home versus come into the building.

It will vary school to school and classroom to classroom, depending on how many children have returned and their needs, points out David De Rosa, president of the BC Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association.

“The majority of those kids that will likely continue with online are older students Grade 10, 11, 12,” he says. “Where we still need to do some work is around our kids with learning challenges.”

He says the students who are coming in have gained a connection they weren’t getting at home and adds it was important to start getting kids back to class because online learning just isn’t working for everyone.

“They needed that in-person connection so teachers coming in and doing that has been quite valuable,” says Tetrault.

Anxiety dissipates

Despite those ongoing issues and the concerns of teachers who are at a greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19, the trepidation parents and teachers shared at the beginning of the week seems to have declined.

DeRosa says as they saw first-hand the measures in place to keep distance, cleanliness and order, staff and parents seemed to ease a little.

“People are starting to feel like this is, I guess, manageable … but we’re nowhere near capacity, still, and that’s going to take some time and we still have to see what the impacts will be on some of our teaching staff and support staff,” says DeRosa.

Elementary students, especially, can feel difficult to manage, given their reputation as ankle-biting petri-dishes, but Barclay says cleaning staff are on top of things and that helps keep anxiety low.

“I think it’s gone well,” she says, adding teachers spent a lot of time going over health and safety protocols and kids are washing their hands a lot. Another strategy has been to prioritize time outdoors, she says.

“Teachers have done a really amazing job adjusting to this ever-changing landscape that we’re in,” she says.

Despite the fear, stress, and sweat that had to go into making this first week happen, DeRosa says it’s all been worth it.

“The best thing in all of this; the smiles of the kids and how excited they were to be back at school with their friends, with their teachers. That was the best.” he says.