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Teachers under strain, and new ones can’t afford the rent

For the second year the teachers’ federation conducted a random survey of its members to learn their concerns
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The BCTF has released the results of a recent teachers’ survey. Nikada/E+/Getty Images

A BCTF survey of its teachers is showing what many of them and the public have heard before, that they’re stressed out and overworked.

For the second year the teachers’ federation conducted a random survey of its members to learn their concerns and found that teachers continue to face mental and physical health issues, are expected to do more with less and keep seeing students’ needs going unmet. And 15 percent of them say they’ll likely be out of the B.C. education system within two years.

In the Delta school district, the issues are similar, but more at the day-to-day level.

A shortage of teachers-on-call to cover for teachers if they’re sick or off for meetings or professional development is one concern.

According to the survey, 60 per cent of teachers said that adding more classroom teachers, specialists or teachers-on-call would have the most impact.

“The lack of teachers-on-call is really concerning,” said Susan Yao, president of the Delta Teachers’ Association.

Teachers sometimes are reluctant to take a day off or go to a meeting even if they’re ill because it could disrupt the whole school with teachers from other classes having to pop in and supervise because a teacher-on-call can’t be found.

That’s happening even in the wake of COVID-19 which encouraged people not to work if they were sick. Teachers are even encouraged not to take off Mondays or Fridays because those days are really hard to cover, Yao added.

While teachers used to be considered well paid, in Metro Vancouver’s housing market, they’re facing the same problem as many, struggling to find a place to rent, let alone buy a house.

A rookie teacher makes $62,669 the first year, while the top wage for a teacher without a master’s degree is $97,000, Yao said.

Renting a place for $3,000 a month can seriously eat into the pay that new teachers take home every month.

She said that efforts are made to bring in teachers from out of province but after a year many leave because they just can’t afford to live in B.C.

It’s got to the point that Delta School District now has online space where teachers can share in transportation and living spaces.

“Definitely, there’s a lot of different parts to this,” she said. “I would say part of the shortage, the wages are not allowing people to live with dignity.”

Yao said other issues are bothering teachers such as increased time they spend in front of the computer updating six different platforms as part of their regular duties.

Meanwhile, many classrooms have more than the original number of three kids with complex needs.

“So there’s a lot of complex needs in the classroom and yet not enough adults to work with all the students in the class,” said Yao. “So that’s putting more pressure on the teacher when they have to deal with all those needs and don’t have someone else to support students.”

That’s reflected in the survey in which only 13 per cent of teachers felt that students with disabilities or diverse needs are having their needs met.

But while Surrey struggles with skyrocketing enrollment, Delta school district is paradoxically projected to see a decline in enrollment in September, compared to the year previous, although that could change, Yao said.

“If Surrey is growing by leaps and bounds, why is Delta not growing?” she asked.

Currently, the student population could decrease by 133 students next September while the lack of affordable housing and lack of transit could explain why fewer families are moving here.

Yao noted that it’s been a couple decades since a new school was built in Delta.

The B.C. Teacher’s Federation said in a release that 5,209 members participated in the survey which found that 58 per cent said their workload has increased since last year.