As Ontario prepares to launch a week of remote schooling that mandates synchronous learning where everyone is logged on at the same time each day, many teachers who are also parents of young children say they are being put in an impossible situation, one that could have mental-health consequences and exacerbate the teachers shortage in the province.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” said Sabrina Nelson, a kindergarten teacher in Barrie, Ont. “My daughter will need constant attention,” she said of her four-year-old.
Under Ontario’s COVID-19 lockdown, elementary students will take part in remote learning at least until Jan. 11, while secondary school students in most of the province will learn remotely until Jan. 25. Teachers with young children say they need access to the emergency child care that is being provided to health care workers. Without it, they may have to choose between taking a leave of absence or pulling their kids out of school, teachers’ unions say.
“They should get access to essential child care over that period of time,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, a union that represents 83,000 teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals employed in the province’s public elementary schools.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the province rejected a request from the union to provide child care for education workers who need it.
“If you want this to be effective then it requires some work on the part of the government to provide child care,” he said.
“If teachers and other staff are unable to provide quality education remotely, boards are required to provide alternate arrangements, such as access to schools or school board offices,” said Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
Unlike the first wave of the pandemic, “we are allowing child care to remain open throughout the province. To ensure that medical professionals and health care workers can continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and support the vaccination rollout, the eligibility for emergency child care is narrower than the previous emergency child care,” she added.
Teaching her students while tending to her daughter is sure to lower the quality of instruction she is able to offer, Ms. Nelson said.
“I should have the same expectations for myself that I have for my students. I expect them to be in a non-distracting space and for them to have quiet in their own space, and I can’t even guarantee that for myself,” she said.
In the spring, a range of front-line worker were eligible for emergency child care, including health care providers, police officers, firefighters, coroners, power workers and truck drivers, among others. However, that list did not include teachers.
But teachers should be offered emergency child care just like health care professionals are getting now, Ms. Nelson said.
“Yes, they’re right there on the front lines and they require that care, but right now so do we,” she said.
Elementary school teachers in Ontario are “absolutely panicking,” Mr. Hammond said.
A national survey conducted in June by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation found that 44 per cent of teachers had concerns about their mental health and well-being.
If remote learning has to be extended beyond what is currently planned, it will have a negative effect on teachers’ mental health, Mr. Hammond said.
“If it goes on longer, absolutely ... the mental and emotional strain is only going to get worse,” he said.
Many teachers unable to cope with their professional responsibilities while looking after young children will likely leave their jobs, at least temporarily, Mr. Bischof said.
“I assume that people are going to be taking leaves of absence because what else can they do?”
There is already a short supply of teachers in the province, Mr. Bischof said.
Holding on to the ones it has, let alone bringing in new teachers, will be a challenge as things currently stand, he said.
“You can’t do that by driving them out of the system by not looking to meet their needs.”
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