Precarity in Occasional Teaching

Amanda Anderson

The term “precarious work” has become established terminology over the last decade or so as workers are confronted with fewer opportunities for full-time work that comes with benefits and relative job security. Precarious work is increasingly a characteristic of Ontario’s economy and of the job market across the country. It is becoming a global phenomenon.

For more than a decade, being an occasional teacher in Ontario has meant being part of the province’s precarious workforce. An oversupply of teachers and a failure to increase teaching positions to address the need for smaller classes has meant that new teachers seeking full-time work have had to wait about seven years, on average, to secure a contract position. Being part of that precarious workforce makes it difficult to make ends meet, manage one’s life and plan for the future.

Welcome to My World

Waiting for assignment offers to fill your calendar is a reality for a daily occasional teacher and means leading a fragmented life. Though being an occasional teacher at various schools is rewarding and interesting, not being able to plan your work schedule can take a toll on your well-being. The only thing you can be certain of is a start date in September and an end date in June. There may not be much to live on in between.

The majority of public school boards in Ontario use an automated dispatch system to offer daily teaching assignments to occasional teachers. You look forward to the calls and being in the classroom. When you notice a missed call on your phone, it can be devastating. Personally, during the evening I make sure to charge my phone and hold it near me during the set call-out time for jobs. I don’t remember a time when I have eaten supper or walked my dog without my phone.

After you become familiar with the dips and spikes in job offer calls, you might become more strategic in which assignments you accept. Do you decline that part-day assignment in hopes that a full-day assignment will become available? If you do take that gamble, you may risk not working at all on a particular day. Will you accept an assignment an hour drive away or 10 minutes away? If you decline or miss too many calls, are you temporarily blocked from the automated system? It will depend on which board you work for.

Even when you do have a job booked there is still an element of uncertainty as jobs can be cancelled for various reasons. A good blast of snowy weather can wipe out a paycheque for some OTs. Or, if you get the sniffles, and must call in sick – the daily OT will never recoup


stock image of keys on keychain

Occasional teachers, like everyone else who works in the school, need to know how to protect themselves and their students during an emerge

ETFO members posing together

The path to a permanent teaching job often winds through the challenges of occasional teaching.