Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Stress leave, tears and insomnia: B.C. teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Kindergarten students are not very good at physical distancing. Even if they were, it wouldn’t be good for them.

That’s just one of the things in the back of Carolyn Howe’s mind when she tries to keep her students at Victoria’s South Park School engaged – but safe – in her classroom.

“It’s challenging … trying to figure out that line between supporting their social and emotional development and not wanting to traumatize them,” she said. “Not wanting to teach them that you can’t share, versus wanting to make sure we all stay safe. That’s been a hard line to walk.”

Roughly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, B.C. teachers are feeling the emotional and physical tolls of the ongoing restrictions, both in their classrooms and in their mental health.

Students returned to schools on Sept. 8, 2020 after the sudden cancellation of in-class instruction the previous March. Precautions included learning groups (60 students for younger grades and 120 students for secondary schools), physical distancing, hand washing, cleaning and physical barriers.

READ ALSO: B.C. to roll out ‘learning groups’ as part of COVID-19 back-to-school plan

READ ALSO: B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

Concerns were there from the get-go. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) filed an application for the Labour Relations Board to look into working conditions, citing concerns about inconsistent and inadequate implementation of safety measures.

Standardized testing – administering the Foundation Skills Assessment during the pandemic – has also been a point of contention.

In February, mask rules were expanded in schools – mandating face masks be worn by all middle and high school students except when they are eating or drinking, at their own desk or workstation or when there is a Plexiglas barrier separating them. The expanded rules came after dozens of school exposures in the Lower Mainland.

This came about a month after the BCTF issued an online survey for teachers working during the pandemic. Responses from roughly 4,100 B.C. teachers indicated the vast majority (83 per cent) had experienced worsening mental health. About 75 per cent of male teachers and 85 per cent of female teachers said their mental health had worsened a lot or somewhat since COVID-19 arrived in B.C.

Winona Waldron, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA), says many teachers are struggling.

“You feel like you’re responsible for ensuring that everybody that you come in contact with is safe…. It’s this constant vigilance that I think is devastating on people’s mental health,” she said. “I feel like many of our members are in crisis … I talk to a teacher in tears on a daily basis.”

Waldron said teachers want transparency around data and exposures and better access to counselling. She said a more consistent mask mandate would also take some of the stress off educators, who have to enforce complicated rules and exceptions.

For Waldron the gender-based results of the BCTF survey are also notable.

“Our workforce is predominantly women and they are predominantly feeling the brunt of the ongoing pandemic,” she said. “Women continue to do the majority of the emotional labour, and that is just at such a heightened expectation right now.”

Sitting in a tiny chair in her classroom, Howe, who is also the GVTA vice president, echoed Waldron’s concerns. She said she’s seen more burnout and extended leave among colleagues. Many tell her they experience regular insomnia.

“I think the resilience of all of us is down,” she said. “Ten months a year (teachers are) carrying the needs of their class with them all the time. The psychological weight of thinking about these humans that you work with and their needs – that’s always there. This year, it’s much harder to cope with.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

– with files from Katya Slepian and Ashley Wadhwani.

CoronavirusEducationGreater Victoriasd61

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

CNC’s Applied Research and Innovation had partnered with the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Cariboo Agricultural Research Alliance and Mackin Creek Farm after receiving funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to research a number of solutions potentially extending northern growing seasons. (Photo submitted)
Ways to extend growing season in B.C.’s north explored by College of New Caledonia in Quesnel

Low-cost supplemental LED lighting appears to benefit plant growth

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Binche residents Doug Connors (left) with Ross Duncan and Paul Lewis were thrilled after a mission to rescue a moose stranded on Stuart Lake was successful Friday, April 2. (Photo submitted)
Daring moose rescue on Stuart Lake garners national attention

“I’m just saving an animal,” said Ross Duncan with Paul Lewis and Doug Connors

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read