Arlene Tennant, a physical education teacher, had started feeling anxious and stressed upon the schools' closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic that broke out worldwide. Arlene could not visit her mother for months and only got the chance to see her boyfriend occasionally. To combat the disquieting effects of quarantine and her growing feeling of isolation, she would take long walks.
After two weeks of a school break in Quebec due to the pandemic, teachers resumed delivering lectures to their students on virtual platforms with revised syllabuses and different techniques. As a physical education teacher, Arlene used to send exercise programs to her students hoping they would help them cope with the new reality, however she began to feel downhearted when she realized that not many students took her effort seriously and ended up not completing the tasks.
Today, Quebec's elementary and secondary schools operate with 100% of students attending school full-time. Students are required to wear a mask and keep a two-meters distance from the teaching staff, but are these measures adequate and can they even be applied in a practical sense?
"When they asked us to keep a two-meters distance in the school, I measured our hallways, and they are two-meters wide," said Arlene. There is also no way social distancing could be practiced in elementary schools where young students could jump out and hug their teachers at any time. Physical education teachers are at more risk since they have contact with every student in all the classes.
Thousands of teachers are left with the fear of possible infection and masks alone do not help to eradicate the anxiety they experience during and after school hours. When a student of grade one was tested positive for COVID-19, the 59-years-old Arlene realized she had been in close proximity and could not overcome her uneasiness thinking whether that kid had sneezed on her or touched her.
Besides anxiety being a big challenge, Arlene states that many teachers are tired of wearing the PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for hours during school. The fact that the PPE is kept in their Principal's office makes it even more challenging for them to access the relative equipment as they get what they need only when the door is not locked.
There are times when Arlene believes that teachers are undervalued as the schools remain open and operate with a 100% capacity even after Montreal was put in COVID red alert. All restaurants are closed, and public gatherings are banned for maximum measures possible, but the schools remain open. "I feel devalued when the economy matters more than our lives." Class sizes are not decreased and physical distancing is not practiced which increases the possibility of possible infection from the students.
Along with the concern of the spread of the coronavirus, some of the teachers in Arlene's school do not have their devices yet. Those who have their laptops and required accessories have spent time trying to learn several new software programs and figure out how to use technology to deliver quality education to their students.
A dental hygiene professor of CEGEP Édouard-Montpetit, Andrée Litalien, did not have access to her computer and other items. "There were professors who were not able to go and get their books from their offices," said Andrée. Luckily, she had another computer at her place she could use when the lectures continued to be delivered remotely. However, she had to attend several workshops to get hold of the software programs for her class.
After the schools' closure in March, the professors had only two weeks to go through the syllabuses and learn to use online platforms. In addition to that, they spent their time trying to reply to their students' concerns and consoling them. Andrée had counted about 25 individual sessions she had conducted on Zoom with her students.
"Our minds were completely mixed up, but we had no other choice," Andrée remarked she had to work seven days of the week to modify the syllabus and make changes to her mode of teaching. Despite her hard work, many of her students did not demonstrate their motivation to match her efforts, and those who failed her course will have to retake it. She believes that seeing each other would incentivize both the teacher and the students and she wished her students had opened their cameras during the lectures.
Andrée says she is confident that her colleagues and her department's endeavor to deliver quality education will only improve. But the fact remains that many students have left school during the pandemic, a phenomenon that’s being echoed all over. Paige McConnell, a student who dropped out, related her story to the Washington Post. Andrée urges the students, "Give more time to your studies than your part-time jobs. If you want something, you need to make sacrifices. It takes 3 - 4 years for you to get what you want, so sacrifice your time,"
As for her colleagues, to overcome the feeling of loneliness, stress, and anxiety, the teacher advises them to 'stay in touch with each other, sleep well, and make sure they spare some time for themselves.'
The effort and extra hours the teachers spend for their students, especially during the pandemic, should not be ignored. Students can help motivate the teachers and help them get through these times by showing their presence virtually and getting engaged with their course load. Arlene asks students to "please work hard and appreciate your teachers. They want the best for you."