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2021-22 school year the most stressful of the pandemic, says outgoing NSTU president

Click to play video: 'Drop in substitute teachers in N.S. ‘largely’ due to COVID-19' Drop in substitute teachers in N.S. ‘largely’ due to COVID-19
There's been a dramatic drop in the number of substitute teachers in the province, and the outgoing president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says COVID-19 is largely to blame. Paul Wozney says the pandemic is continuing to put pressure on teachers across the province. Amber Fryday reports – Jun 9, 2022

Outgoing Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) president, Paul Wozney, calls 2021-2022 the most difficult year of the pandemic for its members.

“We have discovered new levels of exhaustion and burnout that we never knew were possible,” he told Global News.

Wozney says to turn the corner for the coming school year, teachers will need more resources and support available to them.

Read more: NSTU President on lifting of mask mandate in schools

He says five years ago, “the provincial substitute teaching pool had more than 1,800 people to choose from,” but, this year, they’re down to fewer than 800.

“The province is short on full-time qualified teachers and desperately short on substitute teachers,” he says.

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“We’ve just sort of shoved any available responsible adult in a classroom just so that class doesn’t have to be closed for the day.”

And he says teachers aren’t the only ones reeling from the effects. Students are also facing difficulties.

“To have a constant parade of strangers in front of your room who don’t know you, who don’t understand you as a learner, really haven’t done the planning to make sure that they get you and they put a program in front of you that meets your needs.”

Read more: Mental health must be part of curriculum as students cope with COVID-19 pandemic, say experts

Wozney adds that in talks with the province, the union has raised questions around resources and classroom support for next year.

The union says they have also noticed a “startling trend” in the number of teachers accessing mental health support.

“There’s a massive uptick in the number of people accessing those supports just so they can get up and go to work and stay at work for kids. And it’s a real indicator of that, the incredible strain and the additional workload that’s been heaped on teachers during the pandemic,” he says.

According to The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE), during the 2021-2022 school year 436 substitute teachers were hired. The total number of active substitute teachers for HRCE is currently 1,174.

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Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia lifts mask mandate in schools' Nova Scotia lifts mask mandate in schools
Nova Scotia lifts mask mandate in schools – May 19, 2022

They state that their current number of substitutes is in-line with pre-pandemic levels.

“Substitutes that are able to work may fluctuate on any given day for various reasons, including those related to COVID-19.”

They said HRCE is actively hiring for many roles on an ongoing basis, including substitute teachers. Those interested in becoming a substitute teacher with HRCE can visit their website to learn how.

Read more: Nova Scotia Teachers Union elects Ryan Lutes as next president

Earlier this month, the union elected Ryan Lutes, a high school math teacher, as their next president. Lutes will assume office Aug. 1.

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