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Exhaustion, fear, confusion: Former superintendent says he’s hearing from B.C. teachers at wits' end

Last Updated Sep 18, 2020 at 7:41 am PDT

(Lasia Kretzel, NEWS1130 photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. teachers are already tired, they’re confused, and they’re afraid, according to a former superintendent who says he’s been hearing from educators about their concerns, days into the school year.

This comes after the BC Teachers’ Federation has gone to the Labour Relations Board, trying to force the province to address what it calls “the inequities of working conditions, the haphazard implementation of health and safety measures, and confusing changes in government messages and documents.”

Doug Player, who is a lifelong educator, as well as former professor, says many teachers are already at wits’ end.

“It started with one of my former students calling me and saying she was heartbroken, it’s just so exhausting for her. When I started to talk to other people, I found the new timetable system has things like a five hour philosophy class with the same kids,” he tells NEWS 1130.

“It requires completely different teaching methodologies and the teacher is exhausted after the first day. Or there’s the Grade 8  teacher who has a French class in the afternoon for two hours and 40 minutes. I taught and Grade 8 kids can’t still for 20 minutes.”

A school year like no other

Player says teachers are already feeling the effects of an unusual school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On top of that, teachers see all these protocols changing, they are getting mixed messages from the ministry and the PHO, within their district they are seeing the breakdown of some of these protocols. It’s wearing them out and we’re not a week in.”

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In his blog, Player suggests the “layers of protection” teachers have been promised are already eroded.

“Again the teachers are baffled because, of the four layers indicated by WorksafeBC, number 1: physical distancing has been downgraded; number 2: physical barriers are non-existent; number 3: cleaning protocols vary from place to place; and the fourth: the use of masks is optional for students in the classroom. Is there any wonder why the teachers are baffled?”

How did things get to this point, with students only having been in class less than two full weeks? Player puts the blame squarely on the Ministry of Education.

“The ministry was late to the table in saying you could have remote learning, for example. The local districts could have planned and built that into their programs,” he says. “We didn’t consult with local teachers at the local school level.”

Turn to teachers to help shape protocols

Player feels teachers are the best people to design what will go on in their specific schools.

“They should have been given time in September and they should sure be given some time now because I don’t believe you can keep this system up all year. You’re going to need to make changes, I think, at least in January.”

Player would like to see teachers get the opportunity to sit down in their local schools and provide input on how the system can be improved.

“Not just now, but also in the longer term because we can build a better program. I think we have to stop the mixed messages from the minister and from public health. I see they are making some changes – we have COVID in schools now and teachers were really worried because they weren’t even being told. Now, at least, they’ll be posting what school it’s in. Make changes like that which shows a little respect and trust in your teachers,” he says.

In his blog, Player says he believes “school staff could design a much better plan that does not put teachers and students in five hour or two-and-a-half hour long classes that exhaust teachers and frustrate learners. I believe that contact tracing could be facilitated without the cohort plan which falls apart the moment students exit the school if not before.”

While we may not bang pots and cheer for our teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, as has been done for first responders, Player believes they deserve respect and more support as front-line workers.

“The government needs to reconsider its funding and messaging, the PHO needs to stop sending mixed messages and give the teachers the same protections accorded every other workgroup, and the local Boards need to ensure teachers’ needs, including adequate consultation are being met.”

Player says we all need to walk around in the teacher’s shoes to understand the stress and fear that exists in each of them as each day they care for and nurture our most precious resource.