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  • Tracy Sherlock

Only half of teachers surveyed felt safe in June, many worried about their students

Classroom scenes like the one above don't allow for physical distancing.

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, every day, hundreds of students would gather in schools, bustle through crowded hallways, huddle together over shared computers, crowd around to have a story read to them, share sports equipment or science lab materials, drink from water fountains and share toys, books, pens and pencils.

It’s a far cry from the physical distancing called for today – everyone is used to “few faces, bigger spaces,” and things like staying two meters apart or wearing a mask if you’re unable to do so or have to be together indoors.

Our society has changed.

Teachers, many of whom were back in the classroom in June, teaching greatly diminished classes of no more than half the number of students they normally had, are now facing a return-to-school plan that calls for full-time, in-person learning, with no changes to class size.

In June, only about half of B.C.’s teachers felt safe when they returned to their classrooms and about the same number said proper health and safety measures were in place at their school.

Those results are from a province-wide teacher survey conducted by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation in June. About 16,000 B.C. teachers completed the online survey, which was emailed to them in June. That’s about one-third of B.C.’s teachers.

Eighty-one per cent said they were worried about their students, the BCTF reports.

“The gap is much bigger than in the classroom. I'm finding it difficult to get a hold of my struggling students...Students that are at risk should be identified by the school and should have greater access to in-person support,” one teacher wrote in the comments.

Others were concerned about inequities with online learning.

“We are not assessing ability; we are assessing privilege at this point,” one teacher wrote. “It's not about what kids are's about students have access to support at home and technology...So much of the information is difficult to navigate for students with special needs.”

Two-thirds of those surveyed said their workloads had increased and three-quarters said they were feeling more fatigued.

“We have been pulled in too many directions with not enough time, resources or input,” one teacher wrote. “The health and mental well-being of teachers was never taken into consideration. Many of us are feeling exhausted, demoralized and undervalued.”

Others said the learning curve was steep to begin teaching online after never doing it before.

The top five health and safety measures ranked by teachers were:

o Frequent hand-washing and hand-wash stations,

o Increased and routine disinfection by custodial staff,

o Lower class size limits,

o Closure of a school in case of known infection(s), and

o Procedures for access to school sites by parents and others

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said the start of school will be delayed by two days, until September 10, to allow extra time to plan for the new learning groups and to review health and safety protocols.

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