Our Mandate column offers members information about particular aspects of the College’s responsibilities as a self-regulatory body and explains how we carry them out.
Membership Services — document detectives
In protecting the public interest, we also protect the reputation of all members of our profession and the integrity of our qualifications.
College staff examines more than 200,000 documents every year from people applying for College membership. Almost all are legitimate. But some 12,000 or so undergo rigorous scrutiny.
One research study estimated that people in the United States claimed more than two million fake degrees in 2008. Others say that more than half of all resumés contain false information about academic degrees or professional credentials.
That’s why the College’s Membership Records and Evaluation Services units have stringent standards for the documents that applicants provide to prove they are qualified to teach in Ontario.
“The College has a mandate to protect the public. That means making sure that everyone we certify to teach in this province has the required knowledge, skills and experience,” says Council Chair Liz Papadopoulos, OCT. “It’s rare for an applicant to set out to provide us with fraudulent credentials, but we have to be vigilant to find those few.
“We make sure that new teachers are worthy of the trust that is placed in them by students, parents and colleagues. In protecting the public interest, we also protect the reputation of all members of our profession and the integrity of our qualifications we all worked so hard to earn.”
Iona Mitchell, the College’s Manager of Membership Records, is responsible for the validation of over 1,000 documents a day. “We certify about 12,500 new teachers a year, and the vast majority of applications are absolutely problem free. We review our processes continually to see how we can do a better job of facilitating entry to teaching for qualified individuals.”
The most critical part of an application is an official transcript from the appropriate institution of higher learning. Those transcripts must come directly from the institution, not the applicant.
Mitchell and her 24-person unit never throw out an envelope. “They are the best evidence of potential problems,” she says.
The College’s document detectives look for a printed rather than a handwritten address, an institutional seal and postmark, and a recent date on the postmark. They check to see if the document was mailed from the institution’s location.
Nearly all envelopes, “99.9 per cent,” pass muster at this stage. Even if question marks are raised, they are usually answered satisfactorily. “We have applicants from one country where the institution sends all its mail through the neighbouring country because the school is right on the border, and civil war there makes mail service unreliable,” Mitchell explains.
Mitchell’s unit has samples of official documents, including relevant signatures, from most institutions. Even type fonts and their sizes are checked. Other danger signals in “official” letters include white-outs, unprofessional language, misspellings and grades that seem too good to be true.
The College even conducts a random audit of documents, sending a selection to the issuing institution each year for verification.
Once documents are verified, the applications from teachers educated outside Ontario go to Evaluation Services, where manager Hanca Chang, OCT, and her team evaluate them to assess qualifications.
Does the applicant meet all the qualifications to teach in Ontario, and if so at what level and for what subjects? Chang and her 14-person evaluation team examine the applicant’s program of study and determine if it meets the College’s standards.
Over the years, they’ve reviewed documents submitted by applicants from 100 different countries.
They check classroom hours and whether they included the required studies in the foundations of education and education methodologies. Did the program include the required supervised practice teaching? And is the applicant proficient in either French or English?
Some 90 per cent of applicants qualify for a licence to teach. Those who don’t receive detailed directions about additional coursework that for most leads to certification success. “We want to enable internationally trained teachers to integrate into the Ontario school system for a variety of reasons,” says Chang. “But we want to make sure they are qualified to join our ranks.”