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Anxiety running high as teachers navigate new COVID-19 protocols in the classroom

Last Updated Sep 2, 2020 at 5:19 pm MDT

MONTREAL – Only a few days into the school year in Quebec and some teachers say they’re having a hard time coping with all of the new COVID-19 protocols.

Things like washing your hands may seem simple when it’s only one person, but teachers are responsible for dozens of kids and students have to wash their hands at the beginning and end of each class. That’s a lot of washing.

“I’m so stressed and overwhelmed with all the things I have to keep in mind,” said Maha Kassef, who teaches grades two and four part-time at a French school in Montreal’s Pierrefonds.

Kassef, who’s been teaching since 2006, says this school year is unlike any other she’s seen.

“Did we wash our hands? It’s snack time. Usually, at snack time, we’d just go grab our snack but now it’s like, wait a minute. Put everything away, go wash your hands, grab your snack, eat your snack, go back, wash your hands again. Everything has become a process.”

Another challenge she’s run into is physical distancing within her classroom. She says if she’s behind her desk then she can maintain a six-foot distance. But teachers aren’t always able to stay at their desks.

“I’ve heard horrible things like principals asking teachers to bring chairs from home, for teachers to go to Costco and get cleaning supplies,” said Alex Pelchat, an elementary school teacher and spokesperson for Progressive Education Workers.

Pelchat says anxiety among teachers is running high—something echoed by Concordia University’s Dr. William Bukowski, who says teachers could get burned out.

“(Burnout) is the number one reason for teachers leaving the profession,” he said.

“The likelihood of burnout is higher than ever.”

Quebec’s labour and safety board and public health officials say they’re sending in supervisors to reinforce hygiene protocols, but Kassef says teachers also need support from parents.

“We need them to sit down with their kids regularly and have these quick reminders in the morning when they drop them off to listen to the rules, follow social distancing, wash your hands without a fuss.”

Since schools reopened at the end of August, five Quebec City school have seen outbreaks and 100 students have been sent to self-isolate.

North of Montreal, six teachers at Deux-Montagnes High School have the virus and dozens more are at isolation.

Other schools across the country are experiencing the same thing–at least two schools in the Calgary area have teachers isolating.

Some Canadian schools, like those in B.C., are pushing back the start of the school year to give teachers a bit more time to get a handle on the new protocols.

Quebec was already battling a teacher shortage before the pandemic hit—Montreal alone is down 260. Now, with instructors falling ill, there are even fewer teachers to go around.

“A lot of students don’t have a qualified teacher. And a qualified teacher missing work because of health reasons or they can’t handle it—there’s no substitute teacher to take that spot,” said Perchat.

“And the staff that’s there already has to fill in during their planning periods.”

Kassef says she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to keep up with the demands of teaching in the “new normal”, but there’s one major reason why she decided not to skip teaching this year.

“Why didn’t I stay home? I didn’t want to leave those kids without a teacher.”