An empty track at North Toronto?
Graffiti May Issue 2022
“How hybrid learning is impacting sports teams at NT.”
Ethan Cairns (Contributor)
Now that many COVID restrictions have been lifted, many students are more excited than ever for sports, and this spring may be the first chance for athletes to compete in more than two years. I myself was itching to get onto the track and field team and run for the school, something I’ve never been able to do during my time at North Toronto C.I. Unfortunately, I was surprised to find that there will likely be no track and field team at all this spring. After speaking with several teachers about potentially coaching the team, there was an obvious pattern behind their responses. Teachers simply don’t have the time and resources to put into organising and coaching a team. Ms. Blackmore, who has coached track and field in past years, said that “coaching is my favourite thing to do as a teacher,” but it was made impossible this year due to the lingering effects of COVID on both school and home life. Because of the extra work needed to facilitate hybrid learning, the lack of substitute teaching, and the “learning gap” created by COVID, coaching has by necessity been sidelined.
This doesn’t just go for track and field: other sports have been cancelled due to lack of coaching as well. In fact, for boys at time of writing, the only sports available this spring are rugby and ultimate frisbee. For all the missing sports, from track to football, one of the main culprits is hybrid learning. When asked about coaching track, Mr. Zheng responded, “in any other year I’d be happy to, but this year is not it. Hybrid is eating way too much into my time to commit to something like this.” This statement perfectly encapsulates the issue: teachers have far more work than usual because of having to teach hybrid students. In many cases, teachers need to rewrite tests online, post all class material on brightspace or another learning platform, and deal with all manner of technical difficulties. The reason that teachers have been given this extra burden, says Mr. Roche, is because of the TDSB’s decision not to fund a full virtual school this year. Instead, they have opted for a hybrid system which has added to the workload of NT’s staff, in many cases almost doubling it.
Another reason for teachers’ inability to volunteer is one you’ve probably noticed: there aren’t as many supply teachers as we are used to, meaning teachers must pick up the slack. Either because they have been redeployed to teach online-only students or because they don’t feel comfortable returning to school while COVID is still a danger, the number of supply teachers that are able to fill in for absences is very low. This creates another job for existing staff. Full-time teachers must use their organisation and planning periods watching other teachers’ classes. Mr. Roche also revealed that because of the need to supervise classes, he has had to move much of his planning and preparation time to outside school hours. While not as significant as a double workload, this also adds to the work infringing on teachers’ free time. Time that otherwise may be used for coaching.
Additionally, the so-called “learning gap” created by two years of tumultuous change in the school system has put further strain on teachers. Within three years alone, NT students have gone from non-semestered to quadmesters to semestered, online to in-person, changing seemingly at the drop of a hat. Earlier this year, marks were rendered seemingly meaningless for the last part of the semester, leading many students to completely stop submitting assignments and doing tests. In this environment, it is inevitable that students will miss vital information in the curriculum, and teachers will need to skip over entire units because of time constraints. These measures mean that now, those same students are underprepared for their current courses. Teachers now need to reteach units from previous years and offer extra-help sessions much more frequently than before. This year, my teachers for biology, physics, chemistry, and math all offered extra help sessions in the mornings and after school, often multiple times a week. With the need for reteaching as well as these extracurricular meetings, there is yet more strain on teachers’ agendas.
Overall, the combined stresses created by hybrid teaching, a supply teacher shortage, and unprepared students have made it impossible for many teachers to do anything other than what is strictly required. Coaching a sports team would mean sacrificing time and effort in the classroom or at home. Because of this, we will have to make do and appreciate the sports we do have this spring. The outlook isn’t all bad, though: next year, the TDSB has made the decision to move away from hybrid teaching in favour of a fully-online school for those who are unable to come in person. With luck, more substitute teachers and better-prepared students will arrive in the new school year. The present situation, while undeniably disappointing, only means that athletes no matter their sport must wait a little while longer to come back to competition, and this time, hopefully for good.