REGINA – As he looked over the sessions at the Regina Teachers’ Convention, the proof was staring him in the face, even if it was merely confirmation as opposed to surprise.
Jeff Perry, president of the Regina Public School Teachers’ Association, thumbed through the attendance figures for those breakout sessions that dealt specifically with issues such as feeling overwhelmed, burnout, fatigue and mindfulness. He pointed out that these sessions in particular were filled well in advance in terms of those attending.
“In some cases we could have had four sessions because they were filled the first day, and that’s because with the way things are going right now teachers are needing this.
“I see it all the time and teachers are being asked to do more and more without the resources and supports. A lot of teachers out there are hitting the wall and it shows up in the increased sick leave we’re seeing and then it impacts relationships and teachers’ family lives.”
Debbie Ward, president of the Regina Catholic Schools Teachers’ Association, said she’s seen the same troubling trend among her membership. She similarly attributed this in large part to the workload and intensification teachers are facing.
“In many cases it’s what the expectations are for teachers in terms of what they are doing over and above what they are doing in the classroom. There’s so much anxiety for a lot of teachers. For one thing there’s so much focus on school divisions and administrations being able to show they are at the top and teachers aren’t being treated as professionals and it can be very overwhelming. In some cases teachers maybe bring some of this on themselves, and they might need to step back from all that they are doing.”
Ward noted that the pressures teachers face come from many levels–from the Ministry of Education to the respective board office and, in some cases, school administration.
Perry says that while teachers can manage the smaller bumps, he’s concerned about the big bumps that might still be ahead.
“Something has to give and there’s no question it’s going to affect students and the whole teaching and learning environment. When you think of the budget cuts and that there won’t be a literacy coach, or programs such as arts education, band or music being cut–it’s a lot to put on the plate of education alone and I think we are getting really close to a crisis.”
Perry and Ward both pointed to not only the increased class sizes that are being experienced as a result of population growth in the province, but equally, the increased diversity in class composition that comes with an unprecedented immigration wave that schools are experiencing.
“When I walk into a school now, such as Leboldus [Regina] where I used to teach, I can’t believe it’s the same school. It’s not just the EAL [English as an additional language] kids but the increased number of special needs kids in every class. I think teachers are doing a really good job; but you have to ask, how much more can they do?” Ward said.
Perrry said that although this immigration has been a fact of life in recent years, he’s seen budget cuts for the past five to 10 years and sees no foreseeable end in sight.
“With everything that is going on out there, we have to think differently in terms of how we fund education in this province. We need a 10-year plan but every year we’re just reacting to the provincial budget and you’re in the position of trying to manage the next year. You can’t run education that way and there’s going to be a long-term impact. We need education to help people open their minds.”
Asked if given today’s reality they would choose to go back to teaching, Ward said she didn’t think she would opt for this choice even though her son is a teacher and in her words, he doesn’t complain much.
Perry, meanwhile, said that although he’s aware there are many easier jobs, “I don’t think I’m wired that way and I love working with young people. I guess luckily teachers are the type of people that won’t let the kids suffer, but I don’t know where this is going to go.”