Across Canada, professional Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) work in pre-schools, kindergarten classrooms, early intervention and family support programs, recreation centres, newcomer programs, and domestic violence shelters. In Ontario, ECEs registered with the College of Early Childhood Education (CECE), known as RECEs, co-teach the provincial, two-year kindergarten program with professional teachers, members of the Ontario College of Teachers (Canadian Child Care Federation, 2022). In the winter and spring of 2021, many Ontario kindergarten ECEs found themselves working with students in Virtual Elementary Schools (VES) or pivoting to Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) online during school closures. ERT is “a temporary shift” of instructional delivery to an alternate mode due to crisis circumstances (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust, & Bond, 2020).
My research in the winter 2022 edition of the CAP Journal, “Elementary Educators at High Risk of Workplace Burnout,” quantified the effect of online teaching burnout on Kindergarten to Grade 8 teachers. It found that 59.83% of 244 study participants were at “high risk” (Schroeter, 2022). Workplace “burnout” is defined as a work-related state of mental exhaustion categorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational syndrome. It is characterized by feelings of energy depletion or extreme fatigue, reduced ability to regulate cognitive and emotional processes, and mental distancing from one’s job or feelings of negativism and cynicism. The WHO describes burnout as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Studies have shown that burnout has negative consequences for individuals, organizations, and society (World Health Organization, 2019).
Since that time, Statistics Canada reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 21 per cent of 300,000-strong national ECE workforce left the sector between February 2020 and February 2021 (Uppal & Savage, 2021). Meanwhile, in their April 13, 2022 review of the profession, University of Toronto researchers McCuaig, Akbari, & Correia, described Canada’s early childhood educators (ECEs) as an undervalued, underpaid, under-resourced, marginalized workforce (2022). This paper explores the online burnout rate of Ontario Kindergarten RECEs with the intent of increasing principals’ knowledge of the ECE profession. The voices of ECEs documented in the section on qualitative results is particularly informative.
Workplace burnout can be measured. The gold standard of burnout measurement has been the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). Wilmar Schaufeli, Steffie Desart, and Hans De Witt developed a new instrument, the Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT-12), based on interviews with 49 mental health practitioners and a representative sample of 1500 Flemish employees. The creators state that their tool improves upon the MBI (Schaufeli, Desart, & De Witte, 2020) and that the BAT-12 has good validity, reliability, and internal consistency (de Beer, Schaufeli, De Witte, Hakanen, et al., 2020).
The BAT-12 measures the degree of risk of burnout in an employee population of and signals potential staffing issues. Employees answer 12 multiple-choice questions. Their responses are scored and categorized based on a three-level chart. An average score of 2.96 to 5.00 on the 12 burnout assessment measures indicates that a worker is “at high risk” of burnout. An average score of between 2.54 and 2.95 means a person is “at risk” of burnout. Scoring between 1.00 and 2.53 on the assessment tool suggests that an employee is at no risk of burnout (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).
In an attempt to quantify RECE burnout, I put the BAT-12 into a Google questionnaire, developed and added four open-ended questions about moral distress, constraints, and coping strategies while teaching online. I posted the survey online in early July 2021 on private RECE and kindergarten Facebook groups with permission. A sample of 21 Ontario kindergarten RECEs and 61 registered kindergarten teachers (OCTs) responded. I “scored” and interpreted their BAT-12 measures of burnout using the User Manual: Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) – Version 2.0 (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart (2020).
The RECEs who responded worked in elementary bricks-and-mortar schools and pivoted to Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) for 10 weeks in the spring of 2021 or had worked all year (2020-21) in a virtual school. Most of the RECEs, 95.24% (20), identified as female and were full-time (80.95% or 17). Almost three quarters of the RECEs (71.43%), had less than 10 years of experience. Sixty-one kindergarten OCTs also participated in the study.
The results suggest that a 47.62% of the kindergarten RECEs were at “high risk” of workplace burnout while another 52.38% were at “some risk” of burnout. The study also found that 62.30% of kindergarten teachers (OCTs) were at “high risk” of burnout and that 34.43% of kindergarten OCTs were at “some risk” of burnout. The total number of RECEs at high and some burnout risk (100%) was comparable to the OCTs found to be at high and some risk (96.73%). (See Table 1.)
Table 1: Risk of Burnout
|Measures of Burnout||Kindergarten RECE (21)||Kindergarten OCT (61)||Total Kindergarten Educators (82) *RECEs and OCTs|
|At High Risk||47.62% (10/21)||62.30% (38/61)||58.54%(48/82)|
|At Some Risk||52.38% (11/21)||34.43% (21/61)||39.02%(32/82)|
|At No Risk||0.00% (0/21)||3.28% (2/61)||2.44% (2/82)|
Qualitative Results: RECEs Describe Their Online Experience
I also analyzed the RECE open response questions as a scoping review. Many of the RECE survey participants wrote long, detailed descriptions of their online experiences. Several described their online workload as “double” that of the in-school environment. Some of the issues identified in this study include:
- Uncollaborative teaching partners,
- Excluded from school decision-making and information updates,
- Contending with homeschooling their own children while teaching online,
- Insufficient or no training for virtual teaching,
- Insufficient mental health support,
- Insufficient support for students with special needs while remote teaching,
- Social isolation,
- Fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 in classrooms with high student-teacher ratios, and,
- Feeling distressed by the moral dilemma of being unable to provide play-based programming during remote teaching.
Many of the above issues seem to correspond with those that RECEs have faced since Ontario introduced full-day kindergarten (FDK) in 2010 (Walton, 2021).
Oner RECE, aged 30 to 39 also with 5 to 9 years of experience but with no school-aged children, reported how much work remote teaching was. “There is an incredible amount of planning that goes into virtual learning. My teaching partner and I spent many hours planning and researching outside of work hours (after school and into the evenings, as well as on weekends), however, it was exhausting and affected my mental well-being by not allowing as much time to take care of myself and spend time with my family.”
Still another RECE with the same demographic characteristics as the respondent above, described long-term effects of the experience and the moral distress she felt for her students. “It was exhausting trying to reinvent teaching. Everything needed to be reinvented for a home learning model. … We worked waaaaay longer than our usual hours just to make sure that the next day went smoothly. … Regardless of the extra work, the hardest part for me was the feeling that I wasn’t meeting the needs of my students. They were struggling – I could see it every day and it broke my heart. … Even now I am on Day Two of summer break and I have checked my work email about 20 times. I struggle to disconnect, especially now that the place I’m supposed to relax from work is also the place where I worked all year.”
One full-time RECE with 10 to 14 years of experience, older children out of secondary school, and “at high risk” of burnout had a very unhappy experience with her co-educator. “Working with a teaching partner who would plan and execute a program, receive information about students and not share said information until it was too late was hard. The lack of support for students with high needs (especially during times I was solo with all 24 students during lunch and breaks) was definitely stressful!! … Administration never once asked how things were going or checked in.”
One RECE in the 40- to 49-year-old age group with three school-aged children and 5 to 9 years of experience who was also “at high risk” of burnout was stressed by the lack of consideration for having to work and homeschool her own children at the same time. “My kids were not safe at school and spent a lot of time watching TV so I could do my job. After I was done, I got started with them. There was never break time for working from home parents!”
Another RECE in the 40- to 49-year-old age group with three school-aged children and 20 to 24 years of experience was “at high risk” of burnout felt abandoned. “There was no training. There was no prep time. There were too many children. There was no support. You could read it online, learn how to do it on your own, but do not take a self-care day as that is not appropriate.”
A 30- to 38-year-old with 5 to 8 years of experience stated: “My classroom budget was redirected to the purchasing of technology and I work in a low-income neighborhood. I could not provide any materials to my students at all unless my partner and I spent our own money and orchestrated a supply pick up. Many of my students’ families are new immigrants and do not have the extra funds to finance a kindergarten program. … On the other hand, some students’ families are not in the same situation. The inequities were very apparent during art lessons or sharing times, and visible on the screen while we taught. I constantly felt guilty.”
A 40- to 49-year-old RECE with 2 school-aged children, less than 5 years of experience and at high risk of burnout felt inadequate due to lack of training. “I had strong feelings of guilt for not being good enough or able to keep up with other educators. Feelings that I would be judged for being sub-par.”
Another 40- to 49-year-old also at high risk of burnout was challenged by working with several different teaching partners and explained how she was treated disrespectfully. “I had 4 teaching partners in 2020-21 and was disrespected when I drove the ship this year. I kept us afloat, and my class was amazing but they got no recognition for it either.”
An RECE the same age as the one above but with two children and 5 to 9 years of experience described being treated in a demeaning manner. “RECEs are consistently degraded by OCTs and school administration, left out of discussions, ignored by upper-level board staff, and counted as not important. This past year many RECEs were left to clean and watch. Many were not able to work as a team with their partner while remote. This was my experience this year. Unfortunately, this is not the first year I have been treated this way, however COVID exacerbated the situation.”
The emotional health of many kindergarten RECEs who taught online for all or part of the 2020-21 school year seems to have been put at risk. This is a significant employee health and welfare issue. More concerning is the fact that some RECEs suggest that online teaching has exacerbated longstanding workplace concerns (Walton, 2021). It would seem prudent for provincial governments to intervene on behalf of RECEs to resolve these professional challenges.
Canadian Child Care Federation (2022). ECE Guide by Province or Territory. Retrieved online from cccf-fcsge.ca.
Schaufeli, W., Desart, S., & De Witt, H. (2020). Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT)—Development, Validity, and Reliability. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17, 9495; doi:10.3390/ijerph17249495.
de Beer, L.T., Schaufeli, W.B., De Witte, H., Hakanen, J., Shimazu, A., Glaser, J., Seubert, C., Bosak, J., Sinval, J., & Rudnev, M. (2020). Measurement Invariance of the Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) Across Seven Cross-National Representative Samples. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, (17), 5604, doi:10.3390/ijerph17155604.
McCuaig K., Akbari, E., & Correia, A. (2022). Canada’s children need a professional early childhood education workforce. Atkinson Centre for Society and Child Development, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.
Schaufeli, W.B., De Witte, H., & Desart, S. (2020). User Manual: Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) – Version 2.0. KU Leuven, Belgium: Internal report. Retrieved online from www.burnoutassessmenttool.be.
Schroeter, E. (2022). Elementary Educators at High Risk of Workplace Burnout. CAP Journal, Winter 2022. Canadian Association of Principals.
Uppal, S. & Savage, K. (2021). Insights on Canadian Society: Child care workers in Canada. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 75‑006‑X. ISSN 2291‑0840. Retrieved online from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2021001/article/00005-eng.htm
Walton, R. (2021). ECE’s Early Experiences in Full-Day Kindergarten: They Just Weren’t Ready for Us! eceLINK, Spring 2021: The Peer Reviewed Collection, 5(1), 33-43.
World Health Organization (2019). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. Retrieved online from www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases
Edward Schroeter is a retired Kindergarten and Reading Specialist and classroom kindergarten teacher. He is currently an educational writer researcher and early math content creator.