This story is part of a CBC News series examining the stresses the pandemic has placed on educators and the school system. For the series, CBC News sent a questionnaire to thousands of education professionals across Canada to find out how they and their students are doing in this extraordinary school year. Nearly 9,500 educators responded. Read more stories in this series here.
A majority of Manitoba education workers who answered a recent questionnaire are worried they’ll catch COVID-19 on the job, and two-thirds think vaccines should be mandatory for all school staff.
CBC News sent an invitation to fill out a questionnaire — voluntarily and anonymously — to educators across Canada. In Manitoba, 833 classroom teachers, 125 teaching support staff and 63 administrators, including principals and vice-principals, responded from April 26-28.
Nearly 85 per cent of them said they are concerned about contracting COVID-19 on the job, and 66 per cent believed vaccines should be mandatory for all school staff.
Dozens expressed frustration in their written comments that teachers in Manitoba did not have access to vaccines sooner.
“If the government actually valued teachers, they would prioritize us for vaccines,” one teacher wrote. “I’m so tired of going to work terrified.”
“It feels like a slap in the face,” another said.
Nearly two-thirds of school administrators who responded to the questionnaire believe that during the pandemic, schools have been a safe place for teachers and students.
But more than 90 per cent said they are worried about teacher burnout.
“It just feels like I’m right on a tipping point,” said Grade 12 Garden City Collegiate math teacher Karina Hill.
“I start the day feeling strong, trying to keep my energy up for the students and my other coworkers. Then all of a sudden, my computer doesn’t work, or my headset doesn’t work to teach my students remotely.”
Hill has spent most of the last school year teaching with a combination of students in class and at home.
“I’ve got some asking questions in person and some are speaking to me through a headset, and it does definitely feel a little bit more chaotic,” she said.
¼ consider leaving profession
In more than 400 written responses to CBC’s questionnaire, Manitoba teachers expressed concerns about a lack of substitutes to fill in, the stress of keeping students physically distanced and poor communication when COVID-19 cases are found in schools. Often it’s the parents — not public health — who notify them.
One-quarter of respondents said they are considering changing professions or early retirement because of the pandemic.
“Many teachers are suffering and not getting support for their mental health. They are burning out but won’t stop working because they care so much for their students,” one teacher responded in the questionnaire.
“I am scared to death to come to school,” another wrote. “I am a physical education teacher. I cannot see my own family but am forced to see 200 people a day. I feel unsupported, unsafe and it has taken a toll on my mental health. I would quit tomorrow if I could.”
“The system is crumbling,” another said. “I have never felt, as a professional, more unheard, disregarded and ignored than I have this year. It is clear no one really cares about our well-being.”
R.F. Morrison principal Andrew Volk said administrators have tried their best to support teachers and help them make sense of the constant adjustments to public health orders.
“It keeps changing so frequently and the amount of information that we have to process and work with is just so huge, and then a couple of days later, it might change and be different again,” Volk said.
Winnipeg School Division deletes CBC questionnaire
Of the thousands of questionnaires sent out across Canada, Manitoba had the second highest response rate, after Alberta.
However, it’s unclear how many teachers in the largest school division in the province were able to respond.
Shortly after CBC sent its questionnaire to 344 staff of the Winnipeg School Division, the division deleted the email from all staff inboxes.
“Please be advised that an auto-distributed survey from CBC has not been authorized. We are taking steps to remove this from our mail system,” spokesperson Radean Carter wrote n an email to staff the morning the questionnaire was sent.
In an email to CBC News, Carter said the Winnipeg School Division treated the questionnaire as spam.
“Our intention in this case was not to prevent the audience you may have been trying to reach from having a say in the survey,” Carter wrote.
All emails for school staff were found through school websites that publicly listed them.
CBC sent the questionnaire to 52,351 email addresses of school workers in eight different provinces, across nearly 200 school districts. Email addresses were scraped from school websites that publicly listed them. The questionnaire was sent using SurveyMonkey.
CBC chose provinces and school districts based on interest by regional CBC bureaus and availability of email addresses. As such, this questionnaire is not a representative survey of educators in Canada. None of the questions were mandatory, and not all respondents answered all of the questions.
Data analysis: Roberto Rocha and Dexter McMillan.