COVID-19: Four of five B.C. teachers report declining mental health during pandemic

UBC study polled 1,206 teachers across the province

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With a trying school year having wrapped up, four in five B.C. teachers who volunteered for a survey say their mental health declined during the pandemic, according to a UBC study.

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“The pandemic-related school disruptions and the need to adapt to new regulations and guidelines are unprecedented,” the study stated.

One elementary school teacher with 10 years experience said they had never felt so “discouraged, unappreciated and deflated, while at the same time burned out.”

“Our goal was to understand how B.C. teachers were doing during the pandemic and the potential impact the pandemic may have had on their mental health, but also on their teaching experiences,” said lead author Anne Gadermann, an assistant professor at UBC’s school of population and public health.

The study, carried out in conjunction with the B.C. Teachers Federation and the B.C. Ministry of Education, canvassed 1,206 teachers around the province in February, surveying their teaching experience and well-being after 11 months of COVID-19 restrictions.

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Other findings included:

• 70 per cent of teachers said they had fewer opportunities to form and maintain emotional connection with students;

• 93 per cent reported fewer connection with colleagues;

• 43 per cent said students’ emotional needs were not met;

• 67 per cent said they had more work;

• and 40 per cent said they are more likely to leave the profession than they were before the pandemic.

This response rate is similar to previous research using this approach, but it’s important to note the respondents self-selected to participate in the survey and that their responses may not be representative of all B.C. teachers, Gadermann said.

Gregory Jung, who teaches at Brentwood Elementary in Burnaby, listed the unique challenges COVID-19 posed.

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“I mean not only teaching during a pandemic, but also dealing with a whole bunch of other factors,” said Jung, who took the survey. He named teaching remotely, dealing with families who think the virus is fake news and other families who thought it was unsafe to return to school, and ensuring mask and handwashing protocols were being followed.

“Combine all that with not being able to do normal things like going to see your friend in another class,” Jung said. “It started taking a toll.

“I feel blessed to have had the group I had, but I know some teachers in our school felt the weight of everything. It took a team effort this year, teachers and families coming around, and I’m proud of our community.”

Teacher stress was already a concern pre-pandemic, the report notes, with teachers facing time constraints, classroom-management challenges and supporting the needs of diverse learners.

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“This may be exacerbated by additional burdens due to the pandemic,” the report said. “Prior research suggests that many teachers leave the profession due to (a) exhaustion and/or (b) a lack of confidence in their teaching ability.

“These findings take on new meaning in the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially creating a perfect storm of high levels of exhaustion and lack of confidence in one’s teaching ability in this unprecedented context.”

Teachers tended to report feeling more support from their colleagues, principal and school-based administrators, and union; and less support from school boards and the ministry in Victoria.

“There were definitely many negative aspects about the very challenging year faced by teachers,” Gadermann said. “But on a positive note, we also found some things that can potentially be addressed in the future with more sources of support.

“Teachers who reported feeling well-supported were also more likely to report better mental health and less consideration of leaving the profession.

“We can think of these supports as protective factors for teachers’ mental health and well-being. Focusing on teacher support could be a critical first step for stakeholders to focus on as they work to support teacher well-being.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre

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