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

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

Mabel Todd, 83, of the Nak’azdli First Nation, leads a group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as they walk along the so-called Highway of Tears in Moricetown, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Province, feds fund full cell service along ‘Highway of Tears’ following years of advocacy

A ‘critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies’ after at least 10 Indigenous women murdered, missing along the route

Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party of Canada leader, answered questions during a Terrace District Chamber of Commerce event on April 6, 2021. (Screenshot/Terrace District Chamber of Commerce Facebook)
Erin O’Toole discusses Terrace issues during virtual event

Federal Conservative leader answered questions during a Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce event

Tree; Burns Lake library. (Laura Blackwell photo/Lakes District News)
Dragon Tree christened

The Burns Lake Public Library contest for dragon and tree names has… Continue reading

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Most Read