Column: As teachers battle mental health, many consider new careers

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British Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions in the world to have kept schools open throughout the pandemic

More than 80% of British Columbia teachers surveyed reported deteriorating mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s double the rate for the general population, according to new research.

We need to be careful, because what teachers feel will rub off on the next generation, the students whose teachers shape their lives every day.

This should be of concern to society when we see a specific group experiencing disproportionate levels of stress and mental health consequences, said Kimberly Thomson, postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia in the School of Population and Public Health, who was part of the investigation team.

“This really indicates that teachers are a population that needs more support,” said Thomson. “Teachers are a vital part of our society who shape the next generation – students – so by supporting teachers we can also support students. “

There is other research that shows a phenomenon called “stress contagion,” which shows that when teachers experience stress, it can also affect students’ stress levels, Thomson said.

British Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions in the world to have kept schools open throughout the pandemic, which provincial health worker Dr.Bonnie Henry says is critical for the well-being of children. students. But being on the front lines was clearly scary for the teachers.

“Many of our teachers have experienced increased workload, physical distancing issues, late and inconsistent mask assignments, and poor ventilation. These health and safety risks alone are enough to create stress and anxiety, ”said Clint Johnston, Senior Vice President of the BC Teachers’ Federation.

Not only that, but teachers were also tasked with meeting the social and emotional needs of students, something 43 percent reported increased difficulty with this year.

“There are many more students struggling with anxiety and mental health and we are struggling to provide sufficient support which creates even more stress and anxiety for teachers as we believe we don’t support our students to the best of our ability, ”a teacher said in the survey.

Over 40 percent of respondents said they were considering quitting teaching together.

A teacher interviewed said that she and her husband are both considering a career change.

“I have never felt so discouraged, unappreciated and deflated while being exhausted,” the teacher said in the survey.

British Columbia is already short of teachers, following the 2016 Supreme Court ruling that restored provisions in teachers’ contracts regarding class size and class composition rules.

“At a time when British Columbia is already experiencing a teacher shortage before the pandemic, this kind of burnout should sound the alarm bells in the Ministry of Education and in communities across the province,” said Johnston.

The BCTF calls on the government to improve health and safety in schools, train education workers in trauma-informed practices and create more supportive workplaces.

On the more optimistic side, the survey found that when teachers feel supported, it protects their mental health, Thomson said.

“The main message is that the things we can do within the school system to remind teachers that they are seen, that they are heard, and that their sanity matters would be a useful direction.

We all need a little attention after the year we have had, but teachers, whose very purpose is to care for our children, may need a little more. This support will bear fruit in the future, as these well-educated and well-adjusted young children become the leaders of tomorrow.

The survey covered 1,206 teachers, which represents about 17% of all teachers in the province. Just over half were primary school teachers.

Tracy Sherlock is a freelance journalist who writes on education and social issues. Read his blog or email him [email protected]


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