Being a Temporary Teacher

if you can read this


While I was in Japan this summer, I came across an English language newspaper article in The Japan News (written by Yuko Ohiro & Sachiko Asakuno). The article talked about the plight of “temporary or non-regular teachers” which in 2016 filled up to 10 percent of the teaching positions. Due to declining enrollment and a falling birthrate, boards of education are limiting their hiring of regular teachers. Temporary teachers are not substitute teachers who are hired to cover maternity and child leave. The article states that the hiring of temporary teachers is a result of the trend in small class sizes and team teaching with multiple instructors. Since 2001, the hiring of temporary teachers has increased by 1.7 times (or 170 percent) from 24,296 in 2001 to 41,030 in 2016.

The temporary teachers are expected to carry the same workload as “regular” teachers. Like regular Japanese teachers, temporary teachers work long hours and are expected to take on extra responsibilities such as mentoring new teachers, running extracurricular activities, acting as club advisors, and doing summer home visits (as homeroom teachers). One temporary teacher stated that he was working over 12 hours a day which accounted for more than 100 hours overtime in one month. His salary is about 60 percent of that of a regular teacher.

Japanese regular employment is based on the Local Civil Service Law which ensures the rights of employees. But a loophole exempts temporary teachers whose employment limited to under a year. Therefore boards of education dismiss non-regular teachers and then hire them back so their working term does not exceed a year. This means temporary teachers go with no income during their lay-off period. Under the Local Contract Law, temporary workers are entitled to full-time contracts if their term of work continues over 5 years. According to the Japan Teacher’s Union (February 2017), temporary teachers have worked an average of 5.9 years before getting full-time employment. Another law, The Labour Standards Law applies to temporary workers ensuring they receive a number of paid holidays in relation to their days worked. Due to short term layoffs, temporary teachers do not receive the required paid holidays.

An official at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology Ministry stated the “there is a growing number of cases where boards of education avoid hiring regular [full-time] teachers due to worries about long-term employment and hire temporary teachers with a fixed term”. A senior official of a board of education stated that hiring of non-regular teachers is used as a “regulating value” of employment. The official added “we can’t dismiss regular teachers even if the number of children declines significantly in the future. This would create an enormous financial burden. Therefore we hired more temporary teachers while limiting the employment of newly graduated regular ones”. Another senior official of a board of education confessed “the age range of teachers would become unbalanced if newly graduated regular teachers were to increase alongside the retirement of teachers hired en mass in the days when there were quite a few more children. We hire temporary teachers as an interim measure to survive the current conditions”.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has informed local governments and board of education not to use contract renewals to make temporary teachers’ work the same way as regular teachers. This ministry stated that despite the temporary contract and short-term lay-off period, temporary teachers could be deemed as working continuously and therefore be entitled to permanent regular teacher contracts. Professor Tadashi Yamaguchi (Nihon Fukushi University) stated that short term employment makes it difficult for teachers to improve their teaching practice and hinders a stable education for students. With a teacher’s licence, temporary teachers do not have to pass the education boards’ recruitment exam. Although the article cites many parents stating that the temporary teachers are very hard working and dedicated, the parents are concerned about the poor treatment of these teachers from their boards. In addition, parents are concerned that many great teachers may give up teaching as it is challenge to stay motivated with temporary employment.

After reading this article, I considered the challenges faced by Ontario’s long term occasional teachers currently (i.e. temporary teachers). As a former long term occasional teacher, I know how unsettling it was not knowing whether I would be employed the following year. Although I did get the same rate of pay as a full-time contract (i.e. regular teacher), my pay was low as it was only my first year of teaching. That summer, I was lucky to find work … but I still juggled money as I was a single parent of two children. I was also fortunate to get full-time work the following year.

Now, my long term occasional colleagues have to work and average of 6 or 7 years (based on my own anecdotal observations) before they get full-time employment. This is strikingly similar to the Japanese Teacher Union’s number of 5.9 years before full-time work. I realized that Ontario is having similar challenges to Japan with shrinking student enrolment due to low birth rates.

It is my hope, with the support of our union, ETFO, and the Ministry of Education, that our occasional teachers will be treated well and they will not have to continue to face long years of precarious employment.

Deb Weston


Ohiro, Y. & Asakuno, S, (2017, July 13) Non-regular teachers’ zeal goes. The Japan News, Edition S, From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 4, 2017,  p. 5.

Ohiro, Y. & Asakuno, S, (2017, July 13) Cutbacks in regular employment. The Japan News, Edition S, From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 4, 2017 p. 5.

Updated: August 9, 2017 — 5:39 pm

The Author

Deb Weston

I love teaching and have been practicing for over 19 years in Ontario. I have taught grades 2 through to grade 8, including split and contained Spec Ed classes. I am an advocate/ally for issues dealing with Workplace Health & Safety, Special Education, Mental Wellness, LGBTQT, and Aboriginal topics. I have qualifications in Special Education, Reading, Technology, Mathematics, and Integrated Curriculum. I hold a PhD in Education Policy & Leadership and Quantitative Analysis. I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together. My opinions are my own, usually supported by peer-reviewed literature and law. Follow me on Twitter @dr_weston_PhD


Add a Comment
  1. Mark Carter says:

    Unfortunately, what this article overlooks is the plight of daily occasional teachers in Ontario (who vastly outnumber those in Long Term positions at any given time). The vast majority are paid less than A1/0 for a day’s work, regardless of their experience and qualifications. They don’t receive any benefits. They have absolutely no guarantee of work, and 100 days of work (about $23,000 income before deductions) is considered a great year, meaning that most work a second job that they rely on to actually pay the bills. They regularly have their prep periods taken away, and are regularly assigned extra supervision duty. It’s uncommon for them to actually be given a key to the classroom in case of a lockdown. By head count, occasional teachers comprise 1 out of every 4 members of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. This large group of workers in precarious employment is the dirty little secret in Ontario education that nobody wants to talk about.

    1. Deborah Weston says:

      You make some good points here. Note that this article was based on the current Japanese education landscape.

      I understand your concerns as I worked as an occasional teacher; it was precarious work as I never was sure if I’d get enough work to pay my bills.

      What can occasional teachers do to change their work conditions?

      Deb Weston

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