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Column: Look after teachers, to make sure kids are all right

Stress levels are up for teachers, says B.C. survey
A stock image of students in a classroom.

A vast majority of B.C.’s teachers surveyed say the teacher shortage directly affects their schools and two-thirds say their workload and stress levels are up over last year, a new survey from the B.C. Teachers’ Federation found.

And it’s not helping their health – about 40 per cent of teachers surveyed said their physical or mental health was worse than last year. When you consider that last year we were still just barely crawling out of the pandemic, that says something.

If teachers aren’t okay, learning conditions for kids won’t be optimal.

But the most damning statistic of all is that 16.2 per cent of teachers said it’s unlikely they will be teaching in two years’ time. We already have a teacher shortage in B.C., and if more teachers leave the profession, it won’t be good.

“Teachers are doing their best to make it work, but without significant staffing increases, the pressures on them are unsustainable,” BCTF president Clint Johnston said in a news release. “Our public educators believe passionately in providing students with the best education possible and could do so much more with the full support of school districts and the B.C. government.”

Johnston urged the government to implement similar hiring and training strategies for teachers that it did for nurses, doctors and other professions during the pandemic.

Rachna Singh, B.C.’s minister of education and child care, said in a statement that she recognizes the challenges some teachers are facing.

Singh said the government must recruit and train more teachers and to do so, it is adding 250 new teacher training spots in B.C. and making it easier for educators that are trained in other countries to be certified in our province.

“I know hiring pressures remain and look different depending on the region and school district. That’s why we are working closely with school districts and sector partners on how to address recruitment and retention pressures across B.C.,” she said, adding that $12.5 million is being spent to boost hiring in rural and northern school districts and to recruit Indigenous teachers.

The teacher shortage was magnified by their landmark 2016 Supreme Court win, which restored contract language for things like class size and class composition, but the shortage is also a reflection of the aging population and a global labour shortage.

It’s important that our society protect teachers, who in turn nurture and protect our children, who are our future. Some of the issues raised by teachers – like not being able to get students the supports they need, losing prep time and not taking sick days – have direct effects on students. Sometimes teachers who are off sick are not replaced, which means a specialist teacher from within the school has to step in, but those specialist teachers are often those who work closest with students with special needs.

Even though the government is increasing funding for students with disabilities and diverse abilities, this year by $838 million, the education ministry says, it’s hard to put that funding into perspective with rampant inflation, increasing anxiety across the board and a system stretched by the pandemic.  

The one thing I know for sure is that our children are our most important resource. Educate them well and the future may be a better place. And to do that, teachers must be looked after, which is not only a financial equation. People need to be appreciated for their work, and being able to take a sick day and know your students will be looked after, without other students losing their support, is a big part of it. It’s on us to get it right.

The BCTF survey had some other interesting tidbits. For instance, it found that just three per cent of teachers identify as Indigenous, which is lower than the number of Indigenous teacher graduates and lower than the rate of Indigenous people across the B.C. population, which Statistics Canada reports as 5.9 per cent.

Sixty per cent of those surveyed have more than 10 years of teaching experience and 38 per cent have a master’s degree as well as a teaching certificate, the survey found. The vast majority (77 per cent) of teachers are women, which is up from 62 per cent 30 years ago. Seventeen per cent identify as a racialized person or a person who has experienced racism, with those numbers higher in Metro Vancouver and lower in B.C.’s North.

The survey was held online between February 22 and March 12, with links emailed to a random sample of 13,053 of B.C.’s 39,558 teachers. Of those, 3,068 teachers completed the survey. The overall margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 1.7 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Tracy Sherlock is a freelance journalist who writes about education and social issues. Read her blog or email her

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