Alberta educators report high stress and anxiety as pandemic drags on, according to ATA survey

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Alberta teachers continued to report high levels of exhaustion and anxiety during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Halfpoint/Shutterstock - image credit)
Alberta teachers continued to report high levels of exhaustion and anxiety during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Halfpoint/Shutterstock - image credit)

The Alberta Teachers' Association has released a survey of its members that paints a picture of an exhausted and anxious workforce as the pandemic continues.

More than 1,000 active Alberta teachers and 200 school leaders took part in the November survey.

It's the sixth of its kind since August 2020 measuring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Alberta K-12 schools.

The survey found levels of fatigue, stress and anxiety that are unsustainable, according to the ATA's social research co-ordinator, Phil McRae.

"They continue to be 92 per cent fatigued, and in the high 80 percentile around stress, and half of the population in this survey and the other pulse surveys are saying that they're feeling nervous, anxious or on edge more than half the days," he said.

One-third of respondents said they were not sure they'd continue teaching in their current roles next year — or at all. Sixteen per cent said they would retire, 14 per cent said they would leave the profession for another occupation and seven per cent said they would leave the province to teach in another jurisdiction.

Submitted by the ATA
Submitted by the ATA

"After 20 years of teaching, I cry every day on my way to work. The anxiety and depressive thoughts related strictly to work have made me start seeking psychological help. I am not sure that I can stay in this job," wrote one educator in a response shared in the survey results.

"I want to be happy when I'm with children. In fact … that's the only reason I'm still here and have not gone on a leave yet. This job is not about teaching anymore, and I'm not quite sure what to do with that."

McRae says the ATA has been asking teachers in surveys for years if they plan to stay in the profession.

"What we're noticing is in this particular pulse survey [is] the sentiments around leaving the profession are doubling," he said.

The ATA president says he knows several teachers who have indicated they plan to move on next year.

"I think the one part that is telling is that they want to go work in another jurisdiction and keep teaching because they love it. But they want to go work somewhere else where they might be more respected in terms of the work they're doing," Jason Schilling said.

Class composition and size was an issue for many respondents. Thirty per cent of teachers indicated they have classes with more than 30 students — especially in grades 4 to 6, English language arts in grades 7 to 12 and high school math classes.

"School boards might be collecting some of that class-size data through their own means, but Alberta Education is no longer collecting that information," said Schilling.

"We know that our classes are growing in size. We know that they're growing in complexity — and even more so through the pandemic because we have this disruption to our students' learning that we are going online."


He says the ATA has been advocating to the province to target classes with 30 or more students and make them smaller.

"So they can social distance and teachers can spend more time with those students who are exhibiting more needs right now so that we can focus on that to help them overcome this last year and a half that we've been experiencing in terms of the education," he said.

The margin of error for online surveys cannot be accurately calculated. For comparison, a probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.

In a statement to CBC News, Alberta Education says the government recognizes how challenging the past two years have been.

"We are grateful to all parents, students, teachers and education partners for their continued flexibility and dedication during the pandemic," said press secretary Katherine Stavropoulos.

She said the ATA's recent report is based on a survey of approximately 1,300 K-12 Alberta teachers, representing only 2.8 per cent of the 46,000 teachers in Alberta.

"It also appears this is a pulse survey of a self-identified group of teachers who have indicated they will participate in surveys from the union. This survey does not represent a random sample of teachers and raises questions regarding the accuracy of its findings," said Stavropoulos.

"Alberta continues to have one of the best-funded education systems in Canada at $8.3 billion. This strong funding is evident by the $80-million increase to school board reserves over the course of the 2020-21 school year."

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