Teachers are leaving their jobs because they are burnt out.
Rozeena Khan, a teacher of 20 years, has witnessed her fair share of teachers feeling the weight of the pandemic, as well as feeling it herself.
“Initially, during the pandemic, I had just begun supply teaching in public schools, so I did a switch from teaching full-time in private school to supply teaching in public school. So, there was lots of change to begin with,” said Khan.
Supply teachers are in such high demand and there are not enough people to fill these positions, both experienced and unexperienced.
According to the Ontario Colleges of Teachers, just 34 per cent of supply teachers in the 2020-21 school year started teaching on a daily roster, compared with 54 per cent in 2019-20.
In the 2020-2021 school year, the Durham District School Board (DDSB) was so short staffed, they decided to hire people with no experience.
“There were times when some schools didn’t have enough staff and administrators would have to cover classes,” said Khan. “Without the support of these teachers, they would have to close some of these schools.”
The school system was under pressure and so were the teachers.
Some teachers felt burnt out pre-pandemic then once Ontario went into lockdown, others got burnt out because of the pandemic.
The pandemic caused lots of change in teachers’ lives; in a matter of days they went from teaching in a classroom to teaching from their homes.
Teachers had no choice but to adjust but this has taken its toll.
For Khan, teaching became an even harder task: “It was just a really big learning curve the first year. It was really all about mental health and to stay connected with all the students.”
Sitting at home with every distraction in the world not only made teaching a challenge, it made learning difficult for the students. As a result, parents and teachers are seeing learning gaps in many elementary school students.
Earlier this year, the Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced a plan to have students catch up with the curriculum.
Lecce’s plan included keeping students in the classroom all year round with no interruptions. He also stressed the importance of Ontario students catching up in math, reading and writing.
“It could not be clearer that we must keep students in class without disruption, with a focus on catching up on the fundamentals – reading, writing and math – after two years of pandemic-related learning disruptions,” said Lecce in an October news release.
COVID –19 left a lot of teachers stuck at home, balancing life and trying to keep themselves healthy. Some teachers were unable to return to the classroom in 2021 because of immunocompromised family, being burnt out or raising children.
The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE) pandemic research report, “But at what cost?” Teacher mental health during COVID-19, found that 97 per cent of participants stated they experienced increased job demands, as well as physical, mental and emotional workload during the 2020-21 school year.
There were times when Khan had to fill in and cover for her coworkers, and times when they supported her.
“The mental health was hard, it was hard to concentrate and contact a lot of kids as the pandemic went on. It was a lot of technology trying to figure what works best for the kids,” said Khan.
Data from the DDSB shows 67 per cent of those who responded to a recent employee survey report being under “extreme stress.” Work/life balance and labour shortages are identified as two key issues.
Khan feels the school board has done a lot to support and encourage their staff through these difficult times.
“I think, for the most part, I feel like everyone tried their best. Some principals were more understanding than others, some administrators were more worried about the academics and others were worried about the mental health piece,” Khan said.
Even with the demand for teachers, both certified and qualified job seekers looking for work struggle. Certified teachers have been reaching out, calling, emailing and trying to get in touch so they can get permeant teaching positions. It makes people question why it’s hard for them to get these positions if the DDSB needs teachers so badly.
Khan’s passion and love for teaching and children outweighs the negatives that come with the job. She continues to stay and push because her role as a teacher is much like the role of a parent in many ways.
“It’s become more and more like parenting, there is no end to it. It keeps going on depending on how much you care,” said Khan.
Students are back in the classroom and finally getting back into the swing of a new normal. Teachers and parents are hopeful that it will remain that way until the end of the school year. Right now, the focus is catching up on learning and sticking it out.