Taking the pulse

​Teachers continue to express concern about workload and safety​

October 27, 2020 ATA News Staff

Teacher stress and exhaustion are continuing at an unsustainable level, according to the ATA’s latest pulse survey.

Measuring the time period between Oct. 2 and 5, when nine percent of schools in Alberta reported a COVID-19 case, the survey confirms that well-being, health and safety, pandemic information and decision making, and workload concerns are lingering. These findings on stress and exhaustion have remained at extreme levels since the first pulse survey on Aug. 28.

“This is my 25th year of teaching. I have less preps, more classes, more supervision and dealing with COVID cleaning. I love teaching; however, I am deeply disappointed in the lack of concern for our well-being,” said a survey respondent.

The survey’s questions around teacher and school leader mental well-being were created using a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scale measuring anxiety and depression. Using the CDC scale, this survey found that 45 per cent of respondents are feeling nervous, anxious or on edge more than half the days a week and/or nearly every day. Twenty-nine per cent are feeling depressed or hopeless more than half the days a week and/or nearly every day.

“I have never in my 16 years of teaching seen so many staff members breaking down to the point of tears,” said a teacher respondent.

Occupational health and safety was a new focus in the third pulse survey. Sixty-eight per cent of all teachers and school leaders are being directed to clean and/or sanitize their school or classrooms by their school boards. Of this group, less than half (44 per cent) know what chemicals are being used when they are cleaning and sanitizing.

“What chemical is being fogged in our schools? Health effects? Long and short term?” wrote a teacher respondent.

Meanwhile, the need to protect students and staff from COVID-19 transmission has added a layer of complexity to the working conditions of teachers and principals. For example, six in 10 teachers are spending between 20 minutes and one hour each day cleaning and/or sanitizing their classroom(s)/school.

“Work load has increased. Cleaning that I should not be doing has increased. Teaching multiple grades, programming for more needs with NO support. Assignable [time has] increased — physical distancing is not happening,” wrote another respondent.

Concerns with large class sizes continue to be reported, with one in four Alberta teachers having more than 30 students in their largest class. This has become a source of moderate to extreme concern for teachers and is contributing to anxiety and stress across grade levels.

“I think it’s a problem that I got excited when my Math 30-1 class went down to 38 students,” wrote one survey participant. “The class sizes are absolutely ridiculous and there is no way to physically distance.”

The following actions (among others) were repeatedly noted as considerations by respondents to reduce the stress on teachers and school leaders:

  • Reduce class sizes to allow one to two meters of physical distancing.
  • Reduce the cleaning and sanitization tasks taken on by teachers and school leaders.
  • Reduce teachers’ supervision duties.
  • Reduce the burden of bureaucratic tasks hindering school leaders from being effective instructional leaders.
  • Cancel high-stakes and standardized testing during the pandemic.

For detailed results from this survey, please visit www.teachers.ab.ca. ❚


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