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COVID questions and concerns remain

A Q & A with ATA president Jason Schilling

May 12, 2021 ATA News Staff


1. How much are you hearing from teachers on the COVID front?

I hear from teachers daily on their experiences with COVID. Teachers and school administrators have reached out to me on several different media platforms. I receive messages through emails, texts, phone calls, tweets, Facebook and Instagram. I also receive messages and updates about what is happening across the province from members of Provincial Executive Council and local presidents about what teachers are experiencing while teaching during a pandemic. Lastly, the ATA’s pulse surveys have provided a wealth of feedback that I am grateful for. I have been hearing from a lot of school leaders as well about the amount of contact tracing they are doing in their schools. 

2. What kind of reaction are you hearing to the vaccination news and the move to online learning?

Teachers were relieved to hear the news that they would finally be a priority for vaccinations but noted they were disappointed that the news did not come earlier. And I agree completely. Making teachers and other school staff a priority should have come several weeks sooner. The government has made it a priority to keep schools open during the pandemic so it would make sense to make the people working in schools a priority as well. Many teachers were eager to book their appointments. Timing here is important as well. By getting vaccinated now, teachers should be receiving their second shot before the start of the new school year. 

There are mixed emotions and reactions to the news of K–6 moving online until after the May long weekend. Teachers want to be working in school with their students — that’s the ideal situation; however, with the rise in cases in our communities and schools, they were also worried. Shifting online is not easy and comes with its own unique challenges and stresses. The teachers I have been hearing from wished they were given a transition day to prepare their students and themselves. Substitute teachers were also disappointed and frustrated when their sub days were cancelled. We also heard from many teachers throughout the province who are working in situations that were exempt from moving online such as teachers working in Hutterite and Mennonite schools, along with teachers who are working with disabled students. Teachers were justifiably questioning why the words of the premier to work from home seemed to not apply to them. 

3. What specific concerns remain for the ATA related to COVID?

There are many, and honestly some days it feels overwhelming. We have concerns about the supports that teachers, school administrators and students need to keep schools open. We cannot let our guard slip when it comes to increasing the safety from the people working and learning in schools. The ATA has been stressing the importance to the government to work on their “robust” plan especially in the areas of our province that have seen many COVID cases in their schools. We also need to keep the schools that have not seen many cases as safe as possible so that they can stay that way. 

There are also many concerns about the mental health of teachers and students who have seen high instances of stress and anxiety this last year. The ATA will continue to advocate for concrete solutions and supports for mental health. This will be a major issue for the remainder of the school year and into the next one. Finally, another focus for the ATA and teachers is how students have struggled with their learning this year. We will need to focus on how to best support our students this year and next. This will take more than just the ATA as this issue is one that requires many groups, such as parents, working together to address concerns. However, I firmly believe teachers are leaders in this area as they are experts when it comes to working with their students and knowing how to best address their academic needs.

4. What is the ATA doing on teachers’ behalf to address these concerns?

The ATA continues to advocate for the needs of teachers and students both on a provincial and local level. There are many people working hard to bring resolutions to the concerns and issues we see in schools. Some issues are easy to address while others are more complicated and require more time. We are dealing with a myriad of issues that we have never had to deal with before and frankly, we are also dealing with a government and some school boards that do not want to collaborate on solving those concerns. That makes it more challenging and adds to the frustrations of teachers and school administrators. Teachers and administrators are always encouraged to call the ATA for assistance. The ATA has also been working with other groups and associations to find ways we can work together on concerns we have in common around issues such as curriculum. 

5. What actions by government, school boards or others is the ATA calling for?

The ATA is calling on the government to engage and to not only truly listen to the concerns we have on a variety of issues, but to listen to the reasonable and attainable solutions we have on those concerns. A good example of this is the moratorium we have called for on the new curriculum. Not only has the ATA has asked for a stop to the process, but we have offered a solution to work collaboratively on a new curriculum that would best serve our students. 

The ATA would call on our other education stakeholders to engage in conversations that are collaborative and respectful as well. We are not the only group who worries about public education in our province and our students. There are many ways we can work together. It’s just a matter of finding that path forward. ❚ 

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