LONDON, ONT. -- The union local representing elementary teachers is sounding the alarm over burnout among its virtual teaching ranks.

“I mean on a light day they’re looking at 12 hours, and then you’re looking at 14 to 16 hours if you’re lucky,” said Thames Valley ETFO president Craig Smith.

It’s only a few weeks into the school year but Smith said teachers are raising concerns over long hours, heavy-workloads, and overwhelming stress. He said most of it is coming from teachers in Full Remote Learning classes. While there are fewer than one dozen active greivances, Smith said concerns have been raised by “hundreds” of teachers.

In addition to workload he said mixed messages are a major stress factor.

“There’s lots of people giving lots of direction, so we have lots of messages, lots of mixed messages. Whether that’s superintendent, principal, vice principal. I was talking to one member- he’s getting 50 to 60 emails a day. That in and of itself is a pressure to have to go through all that.”

With COVID cases on the rise Smith said many parents are continuing to transfer their children from in-class to online learning, creating challenges in continuity for educators.

Former Thames Valley District School Board Director Bill Tucker is now a professor at Western University’s Faculty of Education. He said he knows from his own experience of teaching classes online that the challenges are real.

“Preparation, engagement, the follow-up, maintaining engagement with students is an every day, all day process.”

And for him, finding balance is key. “Keeping office hours. I have to still maintain that work/life balance that’s appropriate in any profession.”

Smith, meanwhile, said the union continues to meet with the public school board with the goal of easing the challenges- before the next school dropouts are the teachers, themselves.

“I’m really concerned that we will start to lose members through either, you know just because they are young enough and early enough in their careers they just have enough of it and leave, or they get sick.”