In Ontario, this expectation is a statutory duty of teachers set out in Clause 264 (1)
(c) of the Education Act: "It is the duty of a teacher and a temporary teacher ... to
inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of
Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of
country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all
Although critics of this clause argue, with considerable justification, that its
language is archaic and that teachers cannot possibly fulfill the duty as written, it is
nevertheless important to recognize its intent. Teachers are expected to maintain a high
standard of conduct.
LANGUAGE OF ANOTHER ERA
In Toronto Board of Education versus Ontario Secondary School Teachers
Federation, District 15, the Supreme Court of Canada recently made the following comments
about the clause: "The language is that of another era. The requirements it sets for
teachers reflect the ideal and not the minimal standard. They are so idealistically high
that even the most conscientious, earnest and diligent teacher could not meet all of them
at all times. Angels might comply but not mere mortals. It follows that every breach of
the section cannot be considered to infringe upon the values that are essential to the
make-up of a good teacher. However, the section does indicate that teachers are very
properly expected to maintain a higher standard of conduct than other employees because
they occupy such an extremely important position in society."
High standards of conduct are expected of professionals at all times. Indeed, off-duty
conduct can lead to charges of professional misconduct. The British Columbia Court of
Appeal, in Shewan et al versus Board School Trustees of School District No. 34
(Abbotsford), addressed this matter in 1987: "The reason why off-the-job conduct may
amount to misconduct is that a teacher holds a position of trust, confidence and
responsibility. If he or she acts in an improper way, on or off the job, there may be a
loss of public confidence in the teacher and in the public school system, a loss of
respect by students for the teacher involved, and other teachers generally, and there may
be controversy within the school and within the community which disrupts the proper
carrying on of the educational system ...
"The minimum standard of morality which will be tolerated in a specific area is
not necessarily the same standard of behaviour that a school teacher must meet. The
behaviour of the teacher must satisfy the expectations which the British Columbia
community holds for the educational system. Teachers must maintain the confidence and
respect of their superiors, their peers, and in particular, the students, and those who
send their children to our public schools. Teachers must not only be competent but they
are expected to lead by example. Any loss of confidence or respect will impair the system,
and have an adverse effect upon those who maintain a standard of behaviour which most
other citizens need not observe because they do not have such public responsibilities to
MEDIUM FOR THE EDUCATIONAL MESSAGE
In Attis versus New Brunswick District No. 15 Board of Education (1996), the Supreme
Court of Canada recently endorsed the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruling: "By
their conduct, teachers as medium must be perceived to uphold the values,
beliefs, and knowledge sought to be transmitted by the school system. The conduct of a
teacher is evaluated on the basis of his or her position, rather than whether the conduct
occurs within the classroom or beyond. Teachers are seen by the community to be the medium
for the educational message and, because of the community position they occupy, they are
not able to choose which hat they will wear on what occasion... teachers do
not necessarily check their teaching hats at the school yard gate and may be perceived to
be wearing their teaching hats even off duty.
"It is on the basis of the position of trust and influence that we hold the
teacher to high standards both on and off duty, and it is an erosion of these standards
that may lead to a loss in the community of confidence in the public school system."
To be a teacher in Ontario, one must be a member of the Ontario College of Teachers.
The College, which has been operational since May 20, 1997, is to regulate the profession
of teaching and to govern its members. One of its objects, as stated in the Ontario
College of Teachers Act, is "to receive and investigate complaints against members of
the College and to deal with discipline and fitness to practise issues."
Teachers who are found to have contravened their statutory duty to be positive role
models for students may be subject to disciplinary action by the College and their
And the courts have clearly indicated that teachers even mere mortals are
expected to maintain a high standard of conduct that reflects their position of influence
and responsibility, both on duty and off.
Jack Berryman is an education officer in the School Governance Branch of the
Ontario Ministry of Education and Training and a member of the College of Teachers. For 12
years, he managed the process relating to suspending, cancelling and reinstating