Thunder Bay·Schools Under Stress

Schooling Under Stress: educators in northwest concerned with student success

In a questionnaire e-mailed to teachers, some educators in northwestern Ontario told CBC News they have concerns over student success and how to keep students engaged.

CBC News received 9,500 responses to questionnaire on education during the pandemic

Educators across northwestern Ontario told CBC News in a questionnaire they have concerns with some students rebounding from a change in how education was delivered during the pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

This story is part of a CBC News series examining the stresses the pandemic has placed on educators and the school system. For the series, CBC News sent a questionnaire to thousands of education professionals to find out how they and their students are doing in this extraordinary school year. Nearly 9,500 educators responded. Read more stories in this series here.

Some educators in northwestern Ontario told CBC News they have concerns over student success and how to keep students engaged in the questionnaire e-mailed to teachers.

Educators across the northwest, who had publicly-available email addresses were sent a questionnaire asking about their experiences in education during the pandemic.

Nearly 80 per cent of educators who responded to the questionnaire said they felt they were meeting fewer of their classroom objectives compared to before the pandemic.

Nearly 45 per cent who responded said they strongly agreed that some students will not catch up academically.

Kimberley Douglas, the local president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario for the Keewatin Patricia District School Board, said that finding does not surprise her.

"There are many kids who log in, but they're not attentive, they're out of their routine, right. They're not used to sitting there all day. I'm hearing overall that kids are just trying to survive."

Douglas said some students do thrive with online learning, but it is not the majority. She said some students, who may be shy or not want to speak up in class, may have a better experience online.

However, most are just going through the motions. Nearly 70 per cent of respondents also said they believed the stress of this year will have a psychological impact on students.

"They're done," said Douglas. "This has been a challenging year in many, many ways with the lack of social interactions, the lack of routines that they're normally accustomed to. They're tired. And logging onto a computer for six hours a day is not in the best interest of a student." 

Student support at home is also a concern, said Shannon Bailey, the Superintendent of Education with the Keewatin Patricia District School Board.

She said the board is doing its best to overcome inequities between students, but it can be difficult to manage.

Some issues, like internet connectivity can be an infrastructure issue that the board has no control over, Bailey said.

She said while there will be challenges ahead, the board wants to focus on student growth — when there is a return to normalcy.

"Students, educators, families haven't had any control over the circumstances right now. It will be our job to really get a great sense as where our students are at, and to focus on growth moving forward. It's really all we can do." 

Bailey said issues of student safety and nutrition are also difficult to deal with during the pandemic, noting that while the board can do its best to provide a positive learning experience, support is also required at home for students to do their best.

"Online learning works for students who are motivated and engaged. This is NOT working for students with any needs and setting them up for failure. It is only making the gap larger than it already is … very inequitable!," wrote one respondent.

Another educator told CBC, "there is overwhelming pressure to push kids through classes without meeting expectations.
The life of the school has been gutted, no sports, clubs, minimal activities. Teachers are trying to create experiences, but it depends on the moment whether they will be permitted or not. In my perspective kids are apathetic and teachers are shifting there as well."

CBC sent the questionnaire to 52,351 email addresses of school workers in eight different provinces, across nearly 200 school districts. Email addresses were scraped from school websites that publicly listed them. The questionnaire was sent using SurveyMonkey.

CBC chose provinces and school districts based on interest by regional CBC bureaus and availability of email addresses. As such, this questionnaire is not a representative survey of educators in Canada. None of the questions were mandatory, and not all respondents answered all of the questions.

(Data analysis: Roberto Rocha and Dexter McMillan)


Jeff Walters


Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.