History of the Ontario College of Teachers
The Ontario College of Teachers opened its doors on May 20, 1997. Many voices had urged its creation, including the 1994 report of the Royal Commission on Learning, For the Love of Learning, which argued that it was time for teachers to join doctors, nurses and other professions in self-regulation.
The Ontario College of Teachers Act -- proclaimed July 5, 1996 – created the College with a mandate to license teachers in Ontario, set and maintain professional standards for the teaching profession, implement a disciplinary process and accredit teacher education programs. Legislation also laid out how the College was to be governed, initially establishing a 31-member Council – 17 members of the College to be elected by members and 14 members of the public to be appointed by the provincial government. The size and makeup of the College Council was amended in 2006.
Hereafter, anyone wanting to teach in a publicly funded school in Ontario would have to be a member in Good Standing of the College.
The government appointed Margaret A. Wilson, a well-known former teacher federation leader, to be the College's first Registrar. One of the principal responsibilities of the new College was to organize the first Council election. At its first meeting, the new Council chose Donna Marie Kennedy, an Ottawa-area elementary teacher, as Council Chair.
There were a number of immediate initiatives that the new College undertook to enable it to fulfill its mandate, which led to many firsts.
College staff established processes for handling applications from new teaching graduates and keeping records of members and their status. The College began with an existing membership of 165,000 teachers, all of whose records had to be transferred from the Ministry of Education.
College Council had to oversee the development of a professional misconduct regulation that would enable staff to establish a disciplinary process to handle complaints against members. The College consulted widely with education stakeholders and other regulators, and together with the provincial government to develop the Professional Misconduct Regulation, which came into effect in 1997.
The College – true to its commitment to accountability and openness – held its first disciplinary hearing in 1998 in which the proceedings were open to the public. The results were published in the official publication of the College Council, Professionally Speaking.
The College also created the first online public register of any profession in Ontario, making available to the public a list of all certified teachers in Ontario and their qualifications and disciplinary histories.
Council had to oversee the development of standards of teaching practice and ethical standards that would become the foundations of College members’ professional practice. This was a longer process, since it involved extensive consultation with members of the College and of the public throughout the province. The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession became part of College bylaws in 1999. The Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession became part of the bylaws a year later.
On January 1, 1999, the College introduced the criminal record check for all applicants as a means of ensuring greater public protection. New applicants were also required to report any past offences that might affect their suitability for teaching and any resignations made to avoid discipline in other jurisdictions.
Maintaining and ensuring quality
One of the earliest opportunities presented to the College to defend the quality of teaching in the province came in the form of Bill 160, proposed government legislation that included the power to put non-certified instructors in charge of Ontario classrooms. The College Council recommended this provision be removed, which the government agreed to do before the legislation – the Education Quality Improvement Act – became law in December 1997.
Another early initiative the College undertook was to begin a three-year pilot accreditation project from 1997-2000 in which it reviewed the province's 11 teacher education programs. After a thorough review of course content, faculty, practicum, professional resources and other key facets of the program, each existing program received an initial accreditation. The College formally assumed responsibility for accrediting teacher education in Ontario in 2002. Since then, existing and new programs and courses are regularly accredited by the College before they can enroll students in a program of professional education.
In 1997, the College's research predicted a critical shortage of teachers in Ontario as a large number of qualified teachers neared retirement age. The College worked with other education stakeholders in the provincial government's Minister’s Task Force on Teacher Recruitment and Renewal to address the issue in a number of initiatives. The task force’s work led to the creation of 1,500 new places in teacher education programs in Ontario, intended to be a temporary measure to ensure that retiring teachers were replaced.
This and other actions taken to encourage more people to enter the profession led to a steady growth in membership in the College reaching nearly 225,000 in 2009 and 235,000 in 2012.
The majority of College members are classroom teachers, but vice-principals, principals, supervisory officers and directors of education must also be certified teachers to hold the positions they do. College members work in faculties of education, the Ministry of Education, teachers’ federations, the College, independent schools, First Nations schools and many other institutions in Ontario, as well as in other parts of Canada and around the world.
The College has contributed other studies about the teaching profession in Ontario. Maintaining, Ensuring and Demonstrating Competency in the Teaching Profession, presented to the provincial government in April 2000, was a review of research assessing steps taken in other jurisdictions to attempt to ensure competency in the teaching profession. The review made recommendations on teacher testing as a means of ensuring competency. The provincial government declined to take College advice and introduced the Professional Learning Program, which met with significant resistance from within the profession and was cancelled in 2003.
In 2004, the College released the study Narrowing the Gender Gap: Attracting Men to Teaching, which addressed the low numbers of men in teaching, especially in the elementary grades, and urged government intervention to reverse the decline.
Before the College was established, school board superintendents were responsible for evaluating the fluency in English or French of prospective teachers. Evaluation methods varied across the province and proficiency was also predictably uneven.
In 1999, the College introduced procedures to ensure that new applicants were proficient in either English or French before being granted membership and, at the College's request, the provincial government the following year made language proficiency a part of teacher qualifications.
Protecting the public interest
In April 2000, Justice Sydney Robins produced a report for the provincial government on sexual misconduct in education entitled Protecting Our Children. The review produced more than 100 recommendations, 36 of which related to the College's responsibility to regulate the profession and address discipline issues.
As part of its response, the College published its first professional advisory, Professional Misconduct Related to Sexual Abuse and Misconduct, to help members understand the legal, ethical and professional parameters that govern their behaviour and to underscore the seriousness of not maintaining professional boundaries between teachers and students.
Concerned about the stresses new teachers encounter, in 2001 the College began a five-year study to track the post-certification employment experiences of new teachers. Its aim was to track the early career progress of new teachers and to identify policies that would help them more easily adjust to the classroom and support them in establishing themselves in the profession. The information in the resulting Transition to Teaching study provided has proved beneficial and continues beyond its original five-year mandate, with financial support from the provincial government.
Information from the study fuelled the development of a policy paper on induction and mentoring, designed to address the issues raised by new teachers. The paper, Growing Into the Profession, became the basis of the current program of mandatory orientation and mentoring for new teachers introduced by the provincial government.
In 2003, to recognize the exceptional career of Joe Atkinson, the College's second Registrar who announced his retirement due to ill health, the College established the Joseph W. Atkinson Scholarship for Excellence in Teacher Education, an annual $2,000 scholarship for a student enrolled in one of Ontario's faculties of education. The first recipient was Claire Button, a teacher education candidate at Queen's University.
Internationally educated teachers
The number of internationally educated teachers applying to the College for membership grew steadily in the College's early years. Some could not initially meet qualification requirements set out in Ontario regulation. To assist these applicants, the College provided each person with clear individualized information about what they needed to do to meet the requirements. Most went on to complete the requirements and become certified teachers. The College also developed an extensive resource library and database of information on teacher education programs in other countries to help in the process of better understanding foreign qualifications and certifying internationally educated teachers.
In 2004, the College entered into a partnership with LASI World Skills and Skills for Change, as well as the Ontario Teachers' Federation, to support a partnership called Teach in Ontario to help immigrant teachers gain certification and find employment as a teacher.
In 2006, when the provincial government passed fair access laws affecting all self-regulated professions in Ontario, the College began a review of its registration practices and processes to ensure they were fair, transparent, impartial and objective, particularly for internationally educated teachers. The review involved several months of consultation with newly certified teachers and recent applicants, community groups, government representatives, teacher federations, parents and students, as well as data-gathering, analysis and reflection.
The final report of the staff work group confirmed that College practices are consistent with the Fair Registration Practices Code. Recommendations for improvement were made and subsequently adopted by the College. One of the most important recommendations – elimination of the requirement of one full year of successful teaching experience to obtain full certification – was removed in 2010.
In 2006, the College significantly increased its involvement with Aboriginal communities to ensure the profession contributes to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for Aboriginal students.
Through outreach activities, the College has encouraged Aboriginal students to consider teaching; through the accreditation process, the College works with faculties to provide focused teacher education. Through the Teachers’ Qualifications Review process, the College ensures that its members have access to improved in-service teacher education programs with a focus on teaching Aboriginal students and subjects.
From its beginnings, the College has pushed the boundaries in communicating with its members, making it as easy as possible for teachers and stakeholders to do business with the College from their computers.
Applicants can apply for membership online, track their record online, share their qualifications with prospective employers via Find a Teacher on the College website, pay their membership fee, ask questions, read the current and back issues of Professionally Speaking as well as more online articles and educational research, take part in consultations, share feedback, receive the College’s electronic newsletter and perform a wide range of other actions by electronic means.
Faculties of education can report members' completion of additional qualifications via the College website and parents can sign up for and receive the College’s public newsletter the same way.
At the time the standards of practice and ethical standards were passed into bylaw, Council recognized that the standards need to reflect the evolving nature of the profession. It passed a motion at that time to review the standards of practice and the ethical standards after five years. This review process was completed in 2006 after extensive consultation with the public and College members. The ethical standards were reformulated to embody four main principles – Care, Trust, Integrity and Respect. The standards of practice were also streamlined.
Changes to Council
The first College Council consisted of 31 members, 17 of whom were elected from the membership and 14 of whom were members of the public appointed by the provincial government. Of the elected, four members represented principals and vice-principals, superintendents, the private school system and faculties of education. In the years that followed, the government was urged by some to increase the number of classroom teachers on the Council.
In 2006, the government introduced legislation expanding the Council by four seats for classroom teachers. The changes restricted provincially elected leaders of teacher organizations and those employed by provincial stakeholder organizations from seeking election or accepting a public appointment to the Council.
The first elections for the expanded Council were held in 2006.
Changes were also made along the way in how the elections were conducted. Originally, Council members were elected by paper ballot at a cost of over $500,000 each time to process, send, receive and tabulate mail-in ballots. In 2003, the College for the first time conducted elections electronically at half the cost.
Society has seen standards raised significantly for transparency of the judicial system, with most important court decisions now available online and improved access via televised court proceedings. In the light of these developments, the College reviewed its own practices for providing access to the written decisions arising from public disciplinary hearings.
The College found that its past practice had been inconsistent, and introduced a new protocol to ensure that it meets today’s standards for access to quasi-judicial proceedings.
In the last 10 years, new provincial legislation has required the legal profession and all regulated health professions to match, and in some areas exceed, the transparency the College provides through our online public register.
Society’s evolving standards for accountability by professional regulators were clearly expressed in the 2006 amendments to the Ontario College of Teachers Act. They require Council members to swear an oath of office to serve and protect the public interest, and provide for the Public Interest Committee to advise Council on its public interest mandate.
As the number of retirements from the profession decreased, and as new graduates or internationally educated teachers filled the smaller amount of vacancies, economic changes swung the pendulum the other way. The Transition to Teaching study, introduced in 2001, began to reveal the difficulties that new teachers were having in finding full-time employment.
By 2007, a significant number of new teachers could not find a permanent job during the first three years after graduation and relied on supply teaching to practice their profession. The teacher shortage continued, however, for French-language graduates able to teach in French-language schools or French as a Second Language in English-language schools. Teachers qualified to teach mathematics, the sciences and computer studies were also in short supply.
Teachers' Qualifications Review
In 2004, the College launched the Teachers' Qualifications Review of regulations that govern how teachers are prepared for the classroom and the continuing education programs for professional development throughout their careers. The review led to a recommendation for the expansion of teacher education programs in Ontario to include additional coursework and a longer practicum.
Courses for additional qualifications in general and technological studies have been significantly expanded, as have been the institutions and organizations that are approved to offer them.
In 2009, the Ontario Labour Mobility Act became law, ensuring that professionals and tradespeople certified in one Canadian jurisdiction will be considered to have met the requirements for certification in other Canadian jurisdictions without having to undergo material additional training or assessment or meet additional experience requirements. The College usually certifies between 400 and 500 teachers each year from other parts of Canada. Ontario teachers can now also move more freely between provinces and territories to practice their profession.
New professional designation
In 2010, the College introduced a new professional designation for members of Ontario's teaching profession. The Ontario Certified Teacher (OCT) designation tells students, parents and the public that teachers are guided and informed by ethical standards and standards of practice. The designation is a first for Canadian teachers and a new mark of professionalism.
The Independent Review
Throughout its short history, the College has conducted a number of reviews of how it carries out its responsibilities. The College regularly asks independent experts to review key aspects of the College’s practices.
In 2011, the College decided it was time to review all the practices and procedures related to the College’s investigation and disciplinary mandate and commissioned Patrick LeSage and Lynn Mahoney to conduct the review.
The Honourable Patrick J. LeSage, C.M., O.ONT, Q.C., former Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, is a well-respected legal practitioner, known for his work in reviewing the Ontario police complaints system and the Canadian military justice provisions of the National Defence Act.
K. Lynn Mahoney is a partner in the advocacy department at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP. In addition to her commercial litigation practice, she has criminal law experience as both a prosecutor and defence counsel. Her practice has also involved professional disciplinary matters.
Received in May 2012, the report focused on transparency and efficiency as the two main challenges for the College to address. The former Chief Justice said many of the issues could be resolved if transparency and efficiency became a focus of the College.
The LeSage Report made 49 recommendations. More than half of the recommendations required additions or amendments to provincial legislation or regulation. The others involved changes to College bylaws and policy. A few recommendations served to enshrine in law College practices already in place such as having the public register, Find a Teacher, online.
The changes were designed to ensure that the College:
- makes information about discipline hearings available sooner
- reports discipline outcomes faster
- shares more information with school boards, police and other regulators
- names all those found guilty of professional misconduct.
The College approved 48 recommendations at their June and November 2012 Council meetings. Recommendation 49, which would prohibit any member of the Investigation, Discipline and Fitness to Practise committees from holding an elected or appointed union or association position during their tenure on those committees, was referred to a College committee to study, with their report expected in the spring of 2013.
Enhanced Teacher Education Program
As of September 1, 2015, Ontario’s teacher education program changed. The four-semester program with an increased practicum of 80 days includes an enhanced focus in areas such as special education, how to teach using technology, and diversity. As a result of these changes, new teacher education program requirements for certification took effect as of September 1, 2015.
This short history reflects the College’s commitment to ongoing improvement in the regulation of Ontario’s teaching profession in the public interest.
Follow our continuing progress on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, at oct.ca or in the pages of Professionally Speaking.