Burned-out teachers skipping class in Quebec

Absenteeism and long-term medical leave are up among Quebec teachers, according to new statistics from the Ministry of Education.

New stats show teachers taking more medical leave as workload grows

Absenteeism and long-term medical leave are up among Quebec teachers, according to new statistics from the provincial Ministry of Education.

Department figures show that in the 2007-2008 school year, 8,800 teachers took long-term leave, a 10 per cent increase compared to five years earlier.

Short-term leave was also up in the same period with 76,800 teachers taking days off for medical reasons, an increase of about 1,800.

Many of the cases involved teachers who reported being exhausted, depressed or having problems with anxiety.

The Centrale des syndicats du Québec, the union which represents most teachers in the province, attributes the increase in leave reports to teacher burnout.

Union spokesperson Alain Pélissier said many teachers call his office directly with their stories.

"[For example], the teacher can't even get in the parking of the school. [They] have to turn around and go back home, crying. Then [they] call to the union and saying, 'I can't make it anymore'. That's many, many testimonies we have every week," Pélissier said.

Pélissier said recent reforms to the education system are adding to teachers' stress.

Special needs integration lacked support

Union officials say more teachers are taking sick leave because they can't handle the increasing workloads in their classrooms. ((CBC))

The integration of more special needs students into regular classrooms is more than some teachers can handle, some teachers say.

Carol-Ann Santella, a teacher at Carlyle elementary school in Montreal, said the government hasn't provided teachers with adequate support to handle more students with a broad range of physical and mental disabilities.

"Not only do we have to meet the needs of our coded children, [but] also the gifted child and the average child. So we're torn, always running around," said Santella.

The school's principal, Joan MacMillan, said she's seeing another trend: teachers asking to work fewer days a week.

"You have many, many teachers on 80 per cent. They'll work four days a week rather than five days a week," she said. "This is one way that they're coping with this. But it's very disruptive in a school."

Students discouraged by teacher reactions

Students are picking up on the fact that some of their teachers are having issues with stress.

Alexia Perretta, a Grade 8 student at John Paul I junior high school, said her teacher sometimes just leaves when students misbehave.

"[Some students] talk a lot. They scream. They throw stuff across the room. One of my teachers had to leave the class and another teacher had to come in and keep the class running," she said.

Perretta said she used to want to be a teacher when she grows up, but no longer.

"I would never want to be teacher when I'm older," she said.