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Powell River area teachers endure stressful year

University of British Columbia study reports on mental health
DIFFICULT TIME: Teachers in BC had a stressful year this past school year, according to a University of British Columbia study.

A University of British Columbia (UBC) study has found that 80.5 per cent of BC teachers reported a decline in mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and local teachers faced an unusual and difficult school year.

“Everyone is hoping that we can all recharge and rejuvenate over the summer,” said Powell River and District Teachers’ Association (PRDTA) president Izi Loveluck. “The [UBC] study responses are not a surprise. This year has been particularly hard for teachers as we have tried to keep the school day and learning as normal as possible while worrying about COVID.

“It should also be recognized that BC is the only province, and one of the very few places in the world, where schools were open all year.”

Loveluck said in any year, teachers give so much emotional energy to their students. 

“This year has been particularly difficult as teachers know how their classes were struggling with so many different variables,” said Loveluck. “There was a great deal of extra work to make learning safe and engaging. Routines had to be changed to follow safety guidelines.

“The way teachers were used to teaching had to be changed. Powell River teachers really showed their commitment to students by teaching every day.”

Loveluck said teachers are normally fairly isolated in their classrooms, but this year they could not even access their colleagues, which made the isolation far worse.

“Comments like: ‘I never see my friends, they are in a different cohort,’ and ‘I have to text to catch up,’ and many similar ones showed how much more isolated teachers felt this year,” added Loveluck. “And then there was the worry about becoming ill.”

Loveluck said teaching is a difficult career at the best of times and COVID-19 just exacerbated stress levels.

“My hope is that teachers here in Powell River can de-stress over the summer and that we have a relatively normal next school year,” said Loveluck. “My hope is also for all of us to carefully begin to return to our normal routines and that all essential workers get some relief.”

The UBC study indicated that rates of decline in mental health in teachers was nearly double the rate of respondents from the general population, according to a British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) media release.

“Many of our teachers experienced increased workloads, challenges with physical distancing, late and inconsistent mask mandates and poor ventilation,” stated BCTF first vice-president Clint Johnston. “Those health and safety risks alone are enough to create stress and anxiety. Perhaps the most significant finding we can take away from UBC’s report is the fact that teachers who felt supported had more protection against worsening mental health and well-being.”