COVID19 and Teacher’s Mental Health
To add insult to injury the teacher hater Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, is demanding ‘synchronous’ lessons delivered at exactly the same time daily when many households have 2-4 children sharing one computer and many teachers have children of their own to look after. Self care has entered the lexicon in a big way.
In Psychology Today there are reports that there is a sharp decrease in teacher well being. Teacher absenteeism is way up. Many more teachers are applying for leaves. There are very few substitute teachers available.
Teachers do truly agonize about their students in all this. The students' parents are suffering job loss, evictions, and food insecurity which leads teachers to a secondary trauma similar to PTSD.
Teachers of poor children know what is coming. Those who are behind will fall further behind and may never catch up. The constantly shifting schedules, subject assignments, timetables has many teachers down to their last nerve.
Teachers are being forced to teach in unsafe conditions, classes actually forced to reorganize into larger units make a pathetic joke of so-called cohorts. Rules that apply to restaurants and movie theaters don’t seem to apply to classrooms.
Due to signed contracts, unions have very little scope in which to operate. Wild cat labour moves would be hit with the heavy manners of steep fines and jail time for leaders.
The only way out for teacher and support staff unions is mass communications. This may involve the very expensive, targeted TV, radio and newspaper as well as Facebook ads or our favourite , mass delivery of postcard attacks in vulnerable Tory ridings in Ontario.
Across Canada the story is much the same. Even in labour friendly BC with an NDP government and the best reputation on containing the community spread of COVID19, the back to school effort has been far below what parents and teachers expected from the Horgan government.
Years of working for OSSTF reminded your scribe that teachers and support staff have the same mental health challenges, in the same percentages as the general public. Many teachers, although high functioning in their jobs, have challenges with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. This environment is enough to cause these educators to be pushed to their absolute limits and sometimes beyond.
With the combination of looming early retirements, leaves, sick days and shortage of available substitute teachers rapidly developing, many boards are already using unqualified staff. A serious teacher shortage is rapidly emerging.
This is an education system under extreme duress. The provincial government is in a state of denial as COVID outbreaks move from school to school. The situation is becoming increasingly untenable. How this manifests itself as it begins to seriously break down remains an open question.
Teaching and some related support staff jobs were not without stress before COVID19 arrived. There were incessant new accountability demands, lack of supports, and violence in all school systems. In Ontario there was a very tough bargaining season which clearly affected teachers with compulsory e-learning, larger classes, a below inflation raise, and lack of SE supports. There has been a steep learning curve for online Zoom or Google Classroom, and a clear lack of support from governments and the general public along the lines of “ what are you complaining about, at least you have a well paid job.”