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Teachers rally around families, students due to 'mental strain' caused by hybrid learning

Hybrid model 'not going well. We have had a number of members who have taken sick leave in order to cope with the mental strain,' says Barrie teacher

Organizers of this afternoon's rally in south-end Barrie hope to draw attention to issues surrounding hybrid learning, which teachers say is not helping anyone, especially students.

Hybrid learning, which combines both online and in-school options, was introduced in February 2021 in the region, but with classes stopping because of rising COVID-19 cases at the time, the model only lasted until about April. This academic year, starting in September, hybrid learning is happening in Simcoe County District School Board secondary schools. 

"There are a few circumstances where hybrid learning is occurring, for example if a class is excluded and students are required to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19, but for the most part students who are learning remotely are taking e-learning courses," said board spokesperson Sarah Kekewich. 

Today's rally, which begins at 3 p.m. at the parking lot beside the Dog Off-Leash Recreation Area behind Sadlon Arena, is being organized by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) District 17. They hope people will come out and hear the concerns of educators about how kids are learning  or not learning through the hybrid experiment.

OSSTF District 17 teachers' bargaining unit president Jen Hare says while educators didn’t get a good idea about the hybrid model last school year, they certainly are now.

“It is not going well," she told BarrieToday. "We have had a number of members who have taken sick leave in order to cope with the mental strain.

"But the majority of complaints we hear are members saying they simply can’t get to every kid," Hare added. "Whether they have one tuning in or more, the natural focus of your attention is with those sitting in front of you.”

Hybrid learning began as a way to continue teaching students who were going to stay home during the pandemic. From home, the students check in to the live online classroom, where anywhere from 20 to 30 students are involved in a regular class while the teacher goes through the lesson.

“The online students may be able to see your blackboard space, but it is a static camera so it may not always be great and... they are not as engaged as those who are live in the classroom,” Hare said.

While one can picture an English or history teacher turning back and forth to the screen and the class to teach, it's also happening in the tech classes, Hare said.

“You could be in an auto shop and while you have the static computer screen in the corner, you’re running back and forth from that to the students who are building a carburetor,” she said. “Or it is in a family studies room where the kids are cooking, and you’re back and forth to see if the kids at home are even able to do so from where they are. Do they even have the ingredients to cook? 

"It isn't working and kids are losing valuable learning time," Hare added. 

Today's rally, and another one Thursday in Orillia, will be advocating for a “fully functional virtual school” for now. 

Hare wants "an e-learning class of up to 35 students with a teacher who is able to sit in front of them and be that voice, that constant, who can connect to them daily."

Hare says many teachers are seeing the pitfalls of pandemic-era learning. 

“We thought last year was going to be the peak of stress, anxiety and issues within our schools," she said. "It absolutely was not and this year has been a struggle for so many reasons, including outbreaks in our schools, hybrid learning, the modified semester schedule (with kids in a class for 150 minutes), little to no prep time for teachers week to week and not mention we’re dealing with students who are suffering.

“I don’t use that term lightly. Kids are having increased issues with their mental health and seeking human connection like we’ve never seen before," Hare added. "There are learning gaps and it immediately needs to be corrected. The school board is not funded accordingly to handle this.”

Today's rally in Barrie is expected to be around 90 minutes, according to the Facebook event page.

Thursday's rally in Orillia is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m., at the Orillia Opera House.

— With files from Jessica Owen