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Chinook's Edge teachers, staff feeling COVID pressures

'There is stress in trying to make sure everybody is safe,' says area Alberta Teachers' Association rep
MVT sanche 1
Trevor Sanche, local ATA president. Submitted photo

INNISFAIL - With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to have an impact on the operation of schools across Chinook’s Edge School Division (CESD), teachers and other staff are doing their best to deal with the challenges and related stress, says superintendent Kurt Sacher.

“There is an elevated level of stress for all of our school-based staff,” said Sacher. “Honestly I think you can apply that to all levels of staff. In this unpredictable COVID world it’s an ongoing challenge.

“When we are looking at a classroom teacher point of view, they have their own personal challenges with COVID. They have family members that are vulnerable and that they are worried about in their home situations.

“The uncertainty of everything, not knowing whether their community will have a positive case or not and the impact on the school. That concerns people.”

Sacher gave trustees an update on the COVID-19 situation as it relates to the division during a recent regularly-scheduled board meeting.

Classes resumed in the division in September, with COVID preventions measures such as social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizing in all schools.

Asked if the division has seen a spike in teachers taking time off and being replaced by substitutes since classes resumed, he said, “We did a check for September compared with September 2019 and we actually have less sub days. That speaks to the consciousous nature of our teachers, that in this time they don’t want to be away from their classes. 

“They are more rediscent to be away. They want to be with their kids and they want to help fill those gaps.”

Trevor Sanche is the local Alberta Teachers' Association president for Chinook’s Edge  and the principal of Beacon Hill Elementary School in Sylvan Lake.

“Teachers are seeing stress and anxiety caused by the uncertainty of the situation,” said Sanche. “There is stress in trying to make sure everybody is safe and feeling like maybe quite a bit of the responsibility is falling on their shoulders and they take that really seriously.

“They need to take it very seriously, but they are feeling the stress and there is anxiety that is forming and it is increasing. I think the stress and anxiety are inevitable just because of the nature of the situation.”

Asked if he would like to see something done to alleviate the stress, he said, “In Chinook’s Edge we are doing a very good job giving the teachers the tools that they need and giving them clear guidelines as to what protocols need to be in the school.”

It is vital that teachers have “open lines of community open with central office” as the pandemic continues, he said.

Any teacher that is feeling any confusion or has concerns with protocols will let Sanche know and he will pass it on to central office, he said.

“I have a direct line to Kurt (Sacher) and our central office leadership team and they have made the commitment that they will deal with every one of these concerns,” he said. “Then either they get back to teachers or I get back to teachers.

“I would say that the majority of our teachers would say that we would have a pretty good open relationship and communication with our central office, which has made a tremendous difference.”

Asked if he would like to see the board do more to support teachers and other staff, he said, “I don’t think we need to see them do anything different, but we need them to continue to be consistent and thoughtful with respect to not only what our families need but what our staff needs. 

“And they have been and we need them to continue. They need to continue to look out for the whole complement of our school staffs.”

Chinook’s Edge support staff and administrators are also feeling pressures during the pandemic, said Sacher. 

“For administrators who are supporting teachers and educational assistants and their administration support, it’s a much heavier load on those folks,” said Sacher.

“And certainly at our level (head office) the demands have increased, with new problems to solve and prepare for. There is an unpredictability that we are always trying to anticipate.

“We are doing very well but there’s just an added level of commitment that it is asking from all of us.”

Teachers have been making use of technologies to help ensure learning continues, both in classes and at home, he said.

“Our teachers have done an amazing job learning how to work with Google Classroom so there is an online platform to keep students up to ,” he said. “Using that and learning and using that is really awkward and challenging. The student with intermittent attendance, on any given day you will have some who are self-isolating. 

“Particularly kids coming back and forth from class is a challenge for teachers because they are trying to ensure that learning continues.”

One of the challenges teachers and staff are facing is dealing with the impact of schools shutting down at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.

“You end up with some learning gaps because of what happened from March to June, so if you have a little bit of intermittent attendance and teachers are feeling conscientious and want to help kids with the learning gaps we are asking a lot of them. It’s hard work and it adds to the stress level,” he said.

Asked if there is anything staff is asking from the board regarding the increased pressures, he said, “No. I think the board has everything it can to resource. We feel very good in how we have been resources.”

Teachers and other staff have access to mental health help upon request, he said. 

“There are a number of supports in that way,” he said. “All of our staff with benefits get access to that.”

While he said everyone would like to see an end to the pandemic soon, he added, “We have prepped our staff that this could be with us for a while and we need to be resilient and we are going to need to support each other, no probably more than ever.”