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Stressed-out B.C. teachers blame province's COVID-19 response

Last Updated Nov 26, 2020 at 3:52 pm PST

Summary

Teachers across Canada report declining mental health during pandemic

Many teachers feel unsupported by the B.C. government

Teacher mental health is important, says Ministry of Education

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – Teachers across Canada report declining mental health as they manage the new stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and governments they believe aren’t doing enough to support them.

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) released a survey of more than 14,000 teachers on Thursday. Nearly half of the respondents reported feeling concerned about their mental wellbeing.

“Now, not even halfway through this school year, it is clear that the demands placed on teachers and education workers are utterly unreasonable,” CTF president Shelley Morse said during a virtual press conference.

Teaching ‘so much harder’ during pandemic

B.C. teachers, like their colleagues nationwide, reported high levels of stress.

Lizanne Foster, a teacher at Surrey’s Queen Elizabeth Secondary, said educators are accustomed to working a stressful job, but the pandemic has introduced new challenges.

“This is not new: that we bear the brunt of a system that is not actually adequately responding to the situation that is,” said the 30-year veteran of education. “It’s just so much harder now because on top of the normal things that we have to bear and do, is the constant concern about our health.”

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Foster said teachers are adapting to new ways of teaching that comply with physical distancing protocols.

In addition to worrying about several things at once, she says this new calculation can interfere with something as simple as approaching a student who appears to be struggling.

“It’s constant and on top of an already exhausting job,” she said.

‘No real support’ from B.C. government: teacher

Foster puts the blame for the added stress on Victoria.

“You’ve got no real support coming from the Ministry of Education in any way that is useful to the districts,” Foster said.

And her colleagues appear to agree. More than 60 per cent of B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) members surveyed said they felt unsupported by the province.

On Thursday morning, Foster said she hoped to see Education Minister Rob Fleming replaced. Hours later, she got her wish when Premier John Horgan revealed rookie MLA and former union leader Jennifer Whiteside would be taking over the post in his new cabinet.

The union has called for a stricter mask mandate in schools and smaller class sizes to allow for more physical distancing, especially in the Fraser Health region where coronavirus cases have exploded in recent weeks.

“It is stressful for all of us during this pandemic, but the fact teachers feel they don’t have what they need in order to keep themselves and everyone safe is particularly difficult,” BCTF president Teri Mooring said.

Province supports teachers’ mental health: province

A Ministry of Education spokesperson said the province is committed to caring for the mental health of everyone in schools, including teachers.

“Navigating the ongoing pandemic is challenging for all British Columbians and we know that there have been impacts on everyone’s mental health. Teachers have done a tremendous job keeping our kids learning through the pandemic and we know they have gone above and beyond this year in helping to keep our schools safe,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Alex Campbell, an on-call teacher in Coquitlam, said he has seen the level of stress rise steadily among teachers since the beginning of the school year in September.

The excitement of returning to the classroom was quickly dampened by increasing case numbers and exposure events at schools, he said.

He said he has found support from his colleagues helpful when dealing with stress.

“There’s really nothing better than having just somebody that you can reach out to at work because you know that they’re going through that shared experience with you,” Campbell said.