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Crisis levels of stress and exhaustion are not sustainable


October 27, 2020 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

“I have never in my 16 years of teaching seen so many staff members breaking down to the point of tears. We are stressed, overwhelmed and scared.”

This is a comment from just one of the more than 2,700 Alberta teachers who responded to the Association’s most recent pandemic pulse survey.

This teacher is not alone. Eighty-seven per cent of teachers report feeling stressed and 93 per cent feel exhausted by the end of the day.

The Association has conducted these pulse surveys three times since schools restarted, and these results have been consistently near or above the 90 per cent mark since the first survey on Aug. 28. We are systematically researching the impact of COVID in schools, while the government has decided not to do such a study.

Obviously, teachers are dealing with a lot this year: administering and enforcing new protocols for every aspect of student interaction — new recess routines, new lunch routines, new end-of-day routines; planning a bunch of new lessons because previous activities are no longer COVID friendly; finding new resources, manipulatives and handouts because old ones don’t work anymore.

Some teachers are preparing for livestreaming of classes or online delivery as well as in-person delivery. Many teachers have to learn new technologies being implemented by school divisions. Some teachers had to completely revise course sequencing and timings to adjust for new synchronized delivery plans and quartermester systems.

Not to mention larger classes, more supervision, in-classroom lunches and more internal coverage when substitute teachers are not available.

Then there’s the cleaning. Eighty-six per cent of all teachers and school leaders are taking on cleaning and/or sanitization tasks in their school, and six in 10 teachers are spending between 20 minutes and one hour each day on it.

This is all before any positive COVID cases show up. There is definitely workload associated with that, as isolation protocols have to be implemented, extra cleaning needs to happen and plans need to be enacted to enable measures of at-home teaching and/or learning. Recently, we learned that principals are even being asked by Alberta Health Services to do contact tracing.

These problems were predictable. The Association brought these concerns to government, but government did not listen.

What the province refused to acknowledge — apparently with school board and superintendent complicity — is that schools would not be able to shoulder these burdens without additional support.

The government refused to put forward any money for schools to hire staff to manage the unending issues created by trying to operate schools during a pandemic.

The premier’s glib quip that teachers will just need to “tidy up” echoes in our ears.

Imagine how the burden could be better managed if we hired more janitors, more educational assistants, more office staff and more administrators. Imagine how teachers could focus on teaching, learning and supporting student well-being if the teachers themselves were better supported.

And, to speak in language the government might understand, imagine how the economy could be buoyed by putting more unemployed Albertans to work in a constructive and needed way to support Alberta’s students and to help ensure that schools stay open so parents can keep working.

As teachers, we often do what needs to be done and we take on what is needed without making ourselves a priority.  That cannot happen this year.

COVID-19 is here to stay for awhile, but this workload on school staff is just not sustainable.

School divisions and the government must step up and work to add in supports for school staff, because “June tired” can’t last for eight months.

To put it in your words, from the survey: “I try to be positive as much as possible and to be my best, but I can’t keep this up.” ❚


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