By BCTF Research Department staff
In March 2020, BC teachers and students went on spring break and returned to a very different teaching world. A year later, as COVID-19 safety protocols in stores, restaurants, and many workplaces have become normalized, teachers find they are still waiting for adequate safety protocols in their schools. Inadequate safety measures, intensified workload, worsening mental health, and professional burnout are just some of the issues touched upon in the recent 2021 BCTF Health and Safety Membership Survey. Conducted in January 2021, the survey provides a snapshot of the experiences of BC teachers at this point in the pandemic.
Support for enhancing safety measures
More than half-way through the 2020–21 school year, over half of teachers (57.8%) who are working in BC schools report that they still do not feel safe.
While there was some variation across regional health authorities, teachers overwhelmingly indicated the need for stronger safety measures, such as a more robust mask mandate, physical distancing measures, better personal protective equipment, and improvements to inadequate ventilation systems. The survey found the following:
BC teachers overwhelmingly support mask wearing, with most teachers (86.9%) involved with in-person instruction agreeing that teachers and other adults in their workplace should be required to wear a face mask or face shield all or most of the time. More than three out of four teachers (79.9%) agree students should also be wearing masks all or most of the time in school.
Only 18.5% of teachers feel that class sizes are adequate for effective physical distancing.
Only 24.8% of teachers working in-person feel that the ventilation system in their workplace is adequate to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Increasing already overburdened workloads
BC teachers were seeing increasingly large and unsustainable workloads prior to the pandemic, and that has only intensified. Approximately three out of four in-person teachers (72.8%) report that their overall workload has increased compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of teachers across BC have experienced this intensification of working hours, but female teachers (74.9%) are even more likely to report a pandemic-related workload increase.
Impacts on mental health and well-being
Teaching during the pandemic has been taking its toll on BC teachers’ mental health and well-being. Most teachers working in-person (83.0%) report that their mental health has worsened during the pandemic.
Mental health concerns among teachers are not new. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers indicated widespread stress, weariness, and burnout related to their workload and the reality of teaching in an underfunded school system. But the return to in-person teaching during this pandemic has added considerably to these pre-existing stressors. Increasing workload coupled with the stress and anxiety of not feeling safe at work has led to more frequent teacher burnout, and a worrying number of BC teachers (34.2%) indicate they are now considering a departure from the profession.
There are also gendered dynamics in how BC teachers are experiencing the impacts of COVID-19, including statistically significant findings related to mental health and burnout. Teachers who identify as female (85.4%) were significantly more likely than male-identified teachers (75.1%) to report their mental health had worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also that they were now more likely to leave teaching within the next two years (35.0% of female teachers as compared with 30.7% of male teachers).
Teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic has created new demands and magnified pre-existing concerns, compounding the challenges facing BC teachers and leaving many physically and emotionally exhausted.
Considering that most people in our school communities will not have access to a vaccine until the 2020–21 school year is already over, it is crucial to put in place key safety measures to help keep schools open. The revised COVID-19 K–12 health and safety guidelines announced by the Ministry of Education in early February moved toward acknowledging BC teachers’ ongoing concerns. However, there is still much work to be done, and the BCTF will continue our efforts to address the shortcomings of current health and safety guidelines.
The full survey report, Keeping Safe Schools Open in a Pandemic: What BC Teachers Say We Still Need, can be found on the BCTF website.