Montreal teachers stressed, burned out as COVID-19 pandemic wears on: ‘Anxiety is at 11’

Click to play video 'The added stress of COVID-19 is taking its toll on Quebec teachers' The added stress of COVID-19 is taking its toll on Quebec teachers
WATCH: Just about every job has changed during the pandemic. Other than health-care workers, there are not many who have seen more stress added to their lives than educators. As Global’s Dan Spector learned, about three months into a school year like no other, the day-to-day grind is really starting to take its toll on teachers. – Nov 17, 2020

Almost every type of job is different now because of the coronavirus pandemic, but some come with a lot of added stress.

About three months into a school year like no other, the day-to-day grind is really taking its toll on local teachers.

“We’ve heard it described as the hardest year of our teaching career. I would say: definitely,” said Catherine Hogan, who teaches Grade 11 at a high school west of Montreal.

Like many of her peers, she’s feeling a lot of weight on her shoulders these days.

“We’re seeing so many more teachers breaking down, even in our staff meetings,” she told Global News.

In a job that’s not easy at the best of times, teachers’ unions say the level of stress this year is unprecedented.

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“I would say anxiety is at 11,” said Matt Wilson, president of the Pearson Teachers’ Union. “The stress level is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and I would say it’s worse now than it was in the spring.”

Read more: No rapid COVID-19 testing for schools: Quebec judge rejects teachers’ union injunction request

Teachers say students are getting better at following pubic health rules in school, but outside and on break it’s a different story.

“I always liken teenagers to herd animals. They’re not confident solo beings yet. They need each other for sort of protection as they’re navigating into the adult world,” Hogan said.

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“They are just drawn to each other. For them, social distancing goes against teenage nature. They’re doing their best.”

Hogan says splitting time between in-person and online instruction and marking assignments digitally creates hours of extra work and no extra pay.

“We’re certainly spending an hour or more just answering emails in the evening, and then I still need to start correcting after that. A lot of my colleagues are saying that they’re correcting until 11:00 at night,” she explained.

All the while, teachers are continually hearing about more and more COVID-19 cases in schools.

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“I had a friend post this week that a teacher at his school is in the ICU with COVID right now, and that hits home,” she said.

Even though the danger of catching the virus is always lurking, sometimes instinct takes over.

Read more: Teachers’ unions, parents group say Quebec schools should stay open during pandemic

A union representing about 6,400 teachers in the French system says last year about 10 teachers resigned. This year, 42 have already resigned.

“A lot of them are just simply giving up and just changing careers,” said Jean-Philippe Viau of the Syndicat de l’enseignement de l’Ouest de Montréal.

At the Lester B. Pearson School Board, there has been steep increase in those on sick leave.

“It’s not an exact number, but based on my conversation with HR, sick leave requests are up. Doubling, perhaps.” said Wilson.

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It’s really disheartening to have to help so many more teachers than normal navigate that that route. The mental strain is definitely building up.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said the minister is aware of the extra efforts demanded of teachers during the pandemic, and pointed to efforts to recruit extra substitute teachers and support staff to help deal with the shortage of teachers.

“We have also brought in a mentoring program for new teachers, and put in place a generous bursary for students in education, and have freed up money to permit the hiring of 650 professional resources and to open 150 specialized classes,” said Genevieve Coté.

With difficult conditions to continue for the foreseeable future, teachers are asking for extra support and understanding from parents.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Montreal borough plans to recycle masks and other PPE' Coronavirus: Montreal borough plans to recycle masks and other PPE
Coronavirus: Montreal borough plans to recycle masks and other PPE – Nov 11, 2020