'Teachers' voices matter': N.B. teachers share struggles, triumphs of the last two years

The COVID-19 pandemic altered public education, with several starts and stops and moves to online learning, and for New Brunswick – a labour dispute that interrupted the system for several weeks.

A tumultuous time for teachers, and some admit, it’s taken a toll.

“Teaching by day in the classroom, teaching online in the classroom, teaching at home," said Laura McCarron, a Fredericton high school social studies and English teacher.

"But also, many times I’ve had to teach my own children because they were often not being able to get instruction, so I was finding the pressure every possible hour, in between and after – me, just holding on."

McCarron has also seen that pressure on her students, and feels decision-makers need to recognize their mental health struggles – along with teachers – and make it a priority next school year.

However, she also believes teachers and students have re-learned to appreciate those special moments that couldn’t happen over the last two years. She’s had the same group of homeroom students for grades 10 to 12, saw them through the closures and cancelled events, and now gets to celebrate their perseverance.

“Knowing that this year they’re going to have their graduation and their prom in-person, and seeing that excitement, seeing their prom dresses, having been with them through the application and now scholarships, there’s nothing like that joy – I’m like a secondary parent,” she said.

Cheryl Richardson is also enjoying those special, simple moments. The middle school French Immersion teacher at Max Aiken Academy in Miramichi, N.B., said the ability to watch students enjoy activities again, is what keeps her going.

“We had our first school dance at the end of March, beginning of April,” she said. “I’ve been teaching for 17 years and the kids were so excited, if you would have been there. They were dancing, they were smiling, they were just ear-to-ear, and when they were leaving they were just, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,' and so, that brought so much joy to me, to see those moments come back.”

Although schools were closed for the first three months of the pandemic, their work didn’t stop, she said.

“Our school identified families that, their needs were not being met because schools were closed. And we as teachers took on that roll of going and helping those families outside of school,” she said.

Rick Cuming spent part of the pandemic as the president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association (NBTA). He’s now past-president, and back in his Grand Falls, N.B., classroom at John Caldwell School, teaching math and science.

For him, the biggest takeaway has been the resiliency of the students.

“It's really amazing how they've risen to the challenges and risen through all of the adversity that they've had to face,” he said.

All three teachers say gaps existed in the system prior to the pandemic, but grew during it. Absenteeism and lack of teaching staff have made it difficult to fill those gaps.

The NBTA is discussing these issues during its annual general meeting, calling on the province to work with them to address staffing shortages, mental health challenges and learning gaps realized during the pandemic.

All things, McCarron says, teachers can help with.

“Teachers’ voices matter – I want to express that again. Teachers’ voices matter,” she said.