Teachers and students reflect on a full year of pandemic learning in B.C.

·3 min read
Masks, cohorts and online learning were all worked into the 2020/2021 school year as teachers and students tried to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Masks, cohorts and online learning were all worked into the 2020/2021 school year as teachers and students tried to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Teachers and students alike in B.C. are looking forward to summer after a full school year of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, which hasn't been easy — teachers had to accommodate both in-person and online learning and try to find ways to manage COVID-19 safety plans, while students had to endure lengthened classes and deal with cancellations of important activities and events.

Gurpreet Kaur Bains, a high school teacher in Surrey, B.C., said energy levels and mental health among her colleagues have slipped this year.

"To say that this year has been very stressful is an understatement," she said.

"I think a lot of colleagues are just kind of looking at the finish line so we could get the much-needed break we all need."

The biggest challenge this year, according to Jen Heighton who teaches grades four and five in Burnaby, has been keeping students and teachers safe.

She feels there was a lack of transparency from the B.C. government about transmission within schools and a lack of safety measures put in place specifically in educational settings, which she says has been "demoralizing."

To hear Jen Heighton and Gurpreet Bains' interview on CBC's On the Coast, click here:

"We feel like the government doesn't value the work that educators put in when all year we were told that it was safe, but what teachers were experiencing on the ground showed that transmission was happening," she said.

"The lack of respect, I think, coming from the government this entire year has been tough."

Empty desks spaced apart in a classroom at Bridgeview Elementary in Surrey, British Columbia on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, as teachers prepared for a school year unlike any other.
Empty desks spaced apart in a classroom at Bridgeview Elementary in Surrey, British Columbia on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, as teachers prepared for a school year unlike any other. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Students seem to understand the pressure their teachers have been under, and appreciate the way they've handled the situation.

Clare Mount, a grade 10 student in Oak Bay, said making the switch to longer classes was challenging, but teachers understood that.

"Most of the teachers did a pretty good job of not making like that two hours, really intense learning," she said.

"I think they did a pretty good job of letting us relax a bit, even though the class can be pretty long and tiresome."

Grade 12 student Veronica Meyer agreed.

"What made me keep going was seeing how hard the teachers were working," she said, adding that her teachers' efforts made her want to work harder.

Students and teachers alike are looking forward to the summer after a long year trying to learn and teach during a global pandemic.
Students and teachers alike are looking forward to the summer after a long year trying to learn and teach during a global pandemic.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Relationships also changed between teachers and students in many cases this year as each had to learn to be more empathetic and understanding of how the pandemic was affecting people.

"It was all about mental health and wellbeing to make sure that my students were taken care of," Bains said.

"Kids appreciated our work ... and we were there for them and they were there for us, and that's pretty much what's taking us through this year."

Listen to three B.C. students reflect on the school year here:

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