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Frustrated and tired, teachers are demanding change

English and Math teacher Kim Hardy spent part of the summer of 2020 doing a course on how to teach online. She says the pressure on teachers right now to be able to continuously pivot and adapt to government-imposed measures, increased workloads, and constant instability is immense. “We have become exhausted with adaptability!” she exclaims. “It’s just too much right now.”

For English teacher Mary Sauvé, the added stress of hybrid learning models has meant that since the start of the school year she has worked every single weekend except for three. She estimates that her workload has quadrupled, and says she needs to keep up this pace in order to feel like she is doing the job properly. “I planned out the whole year based on how often I would be seeing my students,” she says, noting that after 25 years of teaching she has the experience and resources to do this, but at a steep cost to her personal time and life away from school.

Hardy and Sauvé teach at Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR) in Ormstown. Both agree that striving to find a sense of structure and normalcy in the chaos of this past year has become essential in order for teachers to be able to maintain a constant and stable learning environment for their students.
“There are things in their school life that have been taken from them,” Sauvé says, while explaining how her role through the pandemic has not only involved teaching kids how to be adaptable and resilient but modelling this behaviour as well. “I am being open with them, but I am also showing that we can roll with things and that we can get through this.”

Hardy notes that they are seeing decreasing stamina in the students, even when they are in the classroom every day. “We have had to adapt our teaching so much in terms of expectations,” she says. “They are just not able. The effort is massive just to get work handed in.”

Both teachers suggest that while CVR is definitely a very different place during the pandemic, they are making it work and are are keeping it together for the students. “At CVR, we always go above and beyond,” says Sauvé. “Hopefully we can pull the good from this year.”

At the same time, the teachers are firm in insisting that the provincial education minister recognize that there are real needs in the schools, from additional supports for students and those with special needs, to reduced class sizes and improved working conditions for teachers. “We are working harder in a much more difficult educational climate,” maintains Sauvé, who feels the recent vote by the Chateauguay Valley Teachers Association in favour of a strike mandate, in the context of stalled negotiations over their collective agreement with the government, was warranted. The current contract is for 200 days (32 hours a week), which means time spent prepping and grading in the evenings, over weekends and during the summer goes unpaid.

“They constantly want us to keep doing more with less. We’ve hit a breaking point,” Sauvé exclaims. “It is important for the community and for parents to understand what is going on,” she says, noting that she understands how a strike mandate may be worrying for parents. “There is a direct correlation between the teacher shortage and people leaving (the profession) within the first five years, with how we are viewed and how we are treated,” she explains. “We are pretty fortunate at CVR in terms of how the community views and supports us,” she continues. But, says Hardy, “there is a lack of empathy from the government.”

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