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'I don't have time to pee:' Canadian teachers report burnout during pandemic

81 percent of surveyed teachers said they’re putting their students’ needs above their own, according to the Canadian Teachers' Federation
"I’ve found with a lot of the online teaching I was just really lethargic, unmotivated," said one B.C. teacher.

Canada's public school teachers are being pulled in every direction with increased workload and inadequate support from schools, according to a new report from the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF/FCE).

Teachers and education workers across the country are reporting deteriorating mental health as their jobs demand more digital connectivity. The report, which is built on first-hand account interviews of over 2,300 teachers from 2020, reveals that teachers are burning out mentally and emotionally.   

"What we see across the country is an exhausted profession coupled with public education systems teetering like houses of cards as the virus and the scourge of declining mental health have collided head-on with chronic underfunding, understaffing, and increasing class sizes," said CTF/FCE president Sam Hammond.

The uncertainty of the pandemic alongside new or revised COVID-19 restrictions adds a psychological burden on teachers, who said they must manage being an educator who keeps their students engaged, while consistently being mindful of public health and safety protocols.

For example, one B.C. secondary teacher described the anxiousness of ensuring a classroom was COVID-safe.

"I'll come home, and then I'm replaying, and I'm, like, 'when I clean the desks, did I clean that one that the kid had left his pencil case on and came back for? Or did I just stand there and tell him to take his pencil case and then not spray it?'"

Educators also reported lacking time for their breaks.

Another B.C. educator said, "I don't have time to pee or, drink some water […] Teachers aren't cleaners, teachers aren't supposed to have to clean. But when I've got a five-minute break in the morning between my two classes, if I don't clean the desks, nobody does."

Teachers also reported how difficult it can be to keep students engaged, particularly when teaching online.

"A lot of the kids were just lost between the cracks. The ones who weren't doing well just disappeared, and we didn't even know where they were. It was really hard to get in touch," said one B.C. secondary teacher.