Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

Teachers reporting burnout, exhaustion 2 months into school year

In response to a CBC questionnaire asking teachers about their experiences during the return to school, many respondents said they were feeling overwhelmed and some said they were considering leaving the teaching profession.

About one-third of respondents to CBC questionnaire say they are considering retirement, career change

(Photo illustration/CBC News)

Teachers Under Strain: CBC News journalists in Atlantic Canada and Eastern Ontario teamed up to send out questionnaires to thousands of teachers to ask how they're feeling two months into an extraordinary school year. More than 2,000 teachers replied. 

As Nova Scotia public school teachers approach the two-month mark of the school year, some are reporting feeling burned out, exhausted and anxious.

The CBC's Investigative Unit sent a questionnaire to more than 7,000 education professionals asking about their experiences so far in the 2020 school year, asking only those who were classroom teachers to respond.

The questionnaire went out across the province, at all levels of public schools, using publicly accessible school email addresses. More than 700 teachers responded. 

The questionnaire was anonymous. It asked about topics such as how well teachers thought they had been able to follow public health guidelines and how they currently feel about their profession. 

Some respondents consider retiring

Many who responded to the questionnaire reported feeling affection for their students and that they enjoyed being together in the classroom again, but some said they were frustrated they couldn't give their students the educational experience they wanted because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

In general, teachers reported difficulty physically distancing themselves from their students, as well as keeping students distanced from each other. They also reported difficulty with keeping student mask use consistent. 

About a third of the teachers who responded to the questionnaire said they were either thinking about retirement or changing professions. 

"There's a massive uptick in that thinking," said Paul Wozney, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.

"A lot of people are counting the days. If retirement is within sight and the penalty to retire early is not too severe, some people are definitely thinking about that, you know, whether or not this is sustainable."

Paul Wozney is the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. (David Laughlin/CBC)

Education Minister Zach Churchill declined to do an interview before seeing the results of the questionnaire. 

Education Department spokesperson Violet MacLeod sent a statement that read in part: "We know that schools are the best place for our students, that's why we continue to take our direction from Public Health and work closely with our school staff, support staff, teachers and their union." 

MacLeod's statement also referenced the $40 million that Churchill announced in August, designed for hiring more substitute teachers, custodial staff, lunch monitors, and for school supplies. 


On Oct. 8, CBC's Investigative Unit sent a bilingual questionnaire to 7,135 publicly available email addresses that were listed on public school websites in Nova Scotia.

The questionnaire closed on Oct. 12 at 11 p.m. AT. The goal was to get feedback from teachers in order to better understand the experience of educating children during a global pandemic.

Opinions contained in the questionnaire should be treated differently from the results of a public opinion poll or survey. 

The sample of respondents is not necessarily representative of either the voting public or of all the elementary and high-school teachers in the province.

(Photo Illustration/CBC News)

Questionnaire results

The questionnaire asked teachers about their experiences during the return to school. Some of the answers are summarized below. Some answers may not have the same total as respondents were able to skip some questions.  

  • 743 teachers in Nova Scotia answered the questionnaire.
  • 625 teachers said their classes contain the same number of students as before the pandemic, and 83 said their classes are larger than before the pandemic. 35 teachers said their classes are smaller than before the pandemic. 
  • 289 teachers said they felt either "very safe" or "somewhat safe." 319 teachers said they felt either "somewhat unsafe" or "very unsafe" while teaching. The remaining teachers said they felt neither unsafe nor safe. 
  • In response to a question asking teachers to compare how they are feeling now with how they felt before classes started, 150 said they felt slightly more concerned, and 108 felt "much more concerned." 172 said they felt slightly less concerned, and 27 said they felt "much less concerned." 280 teachers said they felt the same as before, and 6 teachers said they were never concerned at all.
  • In response to a question about how they currently feel about working as a teacher, 464 teachers said their views on working as a teacher have not changed. 164 teachers said they are considering changing professions, 78 said they are considering retirement, and 37 said they are more committed to teaching than ever.

To share your experience in the education system during COVID-19 and for any story tips, please email us at:



Shaina Luck


Shaina Luck is a reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. She has worked with national network programs, the CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit, and the University of King's College school of journalism. Email:


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?