A Twitter thread posted this week by an Edmonton-area high school science teacher, which talks about how difficult teaching is during the COVID-19 pandemic, has attracted significant attention online.
“It just really sort of sunk in for me that this year going forward is going to be a very different year than we’ve ever had before, and for teachers, I think it’s going to be a lonely year,” Reuben Mahaffy said when asked why he tweeted.
Mahaffy said he is gearing up for a year where his students become his cohort, rather than his extended family, and while he loves his students, that will be difficult.
He told Global News he sees about 200 students a day, and for that reason, he has decided to cut out his extended family from his personal cohort.
“We’ve been free to choose our cohorts and now we’ve had to remove ourselves from those family support cohorts,” Mahaffy said. “We have to do that because our cohorts are now the kids.”
University of Alberta psychiatry chair Peter Silverstone said the decision some teachers may make to remove family members from their cohorts could be a hard change.
“You start off one way and now you’re getting lots of risk you didn’t have previously and you’re going to have to cut down. That’s hard because it’s the change from what you did.”
Silverstone added the uncertainty teachers have faced amid online classes, along with a stressful return to schools this fall, could pile up for educators — especially because there’s no end date for the pandemic.
“I find this alarming because we are aware that this can have longer-term issues, that things don’t always bounce back to normal,” Silverstone said.
“Uncertainty and change, not being able to plan, is not good for mental health.”
For Mahaffy, he added that he is also discouraged when he hears Education Minister Adriana LaGrange talk about how her government has bent over backwards to make sure teachers and schools are prepared for the school year ahead.
“It’s incredibly frustrating for teachers when you hear from the minister that anything and everything to prepare for back to school has been done because it hasn’t been,” he said.
“We know that there are things that could have been done to make schools safe places. We know that just because bringing class sizes down to 15 students is unrealistic doesn’t mean we have to live with classes of 35 plus.”
In an emailed statement Saturday from LaGrange’s press secretary Colin Aitchison, he said the government was “committed” to school funding.
“Alberta’s government has provided school authorities with $250 million in accelerated funding for capital upgrades, including ventilation and HVAC upgrades, $120 million in increased operating funding, $10 million in PPE, including masks for every staff and student, and access to taxpayer-funded board reserves, which totals $363 million across the province,” the statement read.
“This, coupled with $262 million in federal funding, provides boards with access to up to $1 billion in additional funding to support COVID-19 learning environments.”
Aitchison added that many people in the province have had to limit who they see amid COVID-19 — not just educators.
“Few parts of our society have been left untouched by COVID-19,” he said. “As Dr. Hinshaw has said, COVID-19 is here for the foreseeable future and we need to learn to live with it.
“Albertans in all parts of our economy, including grocery store clerks, daycare workers, restaurant staff and nurses, have all had to make difficult decisions about how and when they visit their friends and families. This is the unfortunate reality of living with COVID-19.”
Mahaffy said that he believes the support of the community and colleagues will be key for teachers getting through the difficult year.
“I know that we are going to have to be really good at supporting each other and that we’re going to have to make use of Zoom and other virtual methods, and really make efforts to maintain the supports that we are going to need,” Mahaffy said.
“I was also heartened by the support that I saw from non-teachers on that Twitter thread too.
“A lot of parents and professionals saying, ‘Yeah, we have to support our teachers this year — because they are going to be asked a lot, and they are taking on a lot this year — and we need to make sure we are there for them.'”
–With files from Sarah Komadina, Global News