Cornerstone teachers facing stress, anxiety

Noting that she was elected to the position as president of the South East Cornerstone Public School Division’s Teachers’ Association, on July 1, Whitney Paul told Cornerstone board members, “it’s been one big whirl,” thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 scenarios within the educational sectors.

Dealing with senior leadership, staff members and teachers, it’s been a big experiment in building relationships, she said.

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Originally from Manitoba, Paul said she gained her early years education in Weyburn and Estevan and even had Director of Education Lynn Little as her junior high school principal in Estevan.  Paul said she is in her second year as a fine arts educator in Redvers and had worked in Arcola earlier where she also got to know board member Harold Laich.

With a Masters degree in education, she said she has carried out intervention work for the division in the past while arts “remain as my passion.” She currently delivers that program to Grades 3 to 8 in Redvers using a totally rearranged program made necessary because of the pandemic.

“I know my role as president, the division has been supportive and I did get some accommodations to help me carry out this work and most of it has been online,” she said.

“The focus will be on building relationships. I have seen and heard about the stress levels. There is a lot of anxiety out there and it has taken a toll,” she said, regarding her fellow educators.

Of course teachers prefer the face-to-face option for delivering education to young students but the new age of virtual learning has come to the fore. She has gotten to know board members through streaming services and has been able to share and develop a collegial atmosphere even under these trying circumstances.

Stating the new school year was “not a normal start up. The reality is, we are exhausted and I am worried about the teachers. Normally they are a resilient group, but I am an optimist. I also have a hard time listening to my own advice to be optimistic at times. It’s a tricky balance. I know the teachers are worried about the burdens placed on them and that’s why I’m here. I’m not here to provide you with a big, formal Power Point presentation. We just need a conversation during these incredibly hard times where things are ever changing with no simple answers. Somehow, we’ll figure this out and in the meantime everyone needs to be healthy and safe.”

Cornerstone chairwoman Audrey Trombley said the board has received the message clearly and they do detect the positive attitudes of the teachers and how they deserve a heads-up and recognition of the fact they are doing their best under challenging circumstances. Estevan trustee Jim Vermeersch said he was encouraged after hearing her statements regarding the building of relationships.

Weyburn trustee Melanie Sorensen asked “what’s missing, what areas are the most concerning?”

Paul said in some instances it was class structures and six-day cycles where there are no normal shifts in teaching periods.

“It’s difficult also to wrap our heads around planning activities and classes online. So you do what you can when you have them in front of you. Your lesson plans have a whole new look. The structure is different.”

Trustee Harold Laich said, “the teaching fraternity has their foot soldiers, just like they do now in health care. They rally the troops. Do teachers have their morale leaders?”

Paul replied, “Most definitely, and we can rally for a long time, but how long will they be able to do that? Some teachers may not be up to it.”

Laich said it would be a wonderful thing if the board somehow managed to recognize these morale leaders once the pandemic forces die down to manageable levels.

Paul said the outlying themes being used in bulletins and notices have centred on getting teachers connected to resources to help them get through the pandemic maze and out to the other side.

Trustee Carol Flynn said she has heard a few rumours of positive outcomes on some playgrounds where bullying has been reduced or even eliminated as youngsters appear to be getting along better with an understanding of what’s going on.

Again, Paul said, that this bright note for some students is sometimes “not so great for teachers who have to extend their supervision hours,” to work with various class cohorts.

But, she concluded on a positive note, again, teachers in many areas have already worked out supervision sharing systems that appear to be working without compromising the current rules.