Teachers’ Work During the Pandemic is an examination of changes posed to education workers by the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario. The research compares educational policy and public discourse with longitudinal interviews of teachers, administrators, and union leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The book’s analyses of the pandemic and teachers’ work are probably of little utility to a wider teaching audience. The most important contribution is furthering our understanding of the ways that the apparent ineptitude of management during the pandemic is part of the core political framework under which public education in Ontario evolved. The book’s core describes how education systems in Ontario are designed to undermine the professional status of teachers through centralization and hierarchical control (regardless of the party in the Premier’s Office). The pandemic arose within this existing political landscape to exacerbate the status quo subordination of teachers to the class of “education decision makers” (e.g., principals, board office staff, Ministry of Education staff, etc.).
The final chapter, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” describes the political role of “teacher organizations” (i.e., unions) in trying to navigate this subordinate role of their members relative to their employer and a wider public. In parallel to the overall subordination of teachers, the chapter argues that unions are similarly subordinated to employers and unable to intervene in most of the ways that matter in our day-to-day working lives (e.g., curriculum, policy, funding, teacher and student discipline, etc.).
Teachers’ Work During the Pandemic provides a compelling case for its thesis, that teachers’ professional dignity was challenged during the pandemic in new but also routine ways that could have been predicted based on the history of public education in the province. It then suggests that to “build back better” will require that teachers are included more systematically in exercising some degree of control over our work.