Registrar's Report: Unpacking the Public Interest (Photo: Matthew Plexman)

What does it mean to serve and protect the public interest? What exactly is the public interest and what about it needs serving and protecting?

These are questions I ask teacher candidates each year during the College’s annual visits to teacher preparation programs at Ontario’s faculties and schools of education. And I usually get one question in return: What interest does the public have in the College’s work? It’s an important question. Here’s how I unpack it for those who want to know why the College exists.

A common element inherent in the public’s interest in any profession is its vibrancy. The public wants to know that the members of the profession are qualified, competent practitioners who are dynamic, enthusiastic and engaged in ongoing learning to enhance their practice. While that’s also true of those in law, medicine and other regulated professions, teaching draws uniquely caring, empathetic and compassionate individuals who help young people reach their potential, exceed their dreams and shape the world.

That vibrancy lives each day in classrooms around the province. At the heart of it are thousands of exceptionally qualified teacher practitioners whose impressive academic credentials can be seen on our website in the Find a Teacher portal. Each year, Ontario teachers also complete more than 40,000 Additional Qualification courses, expanding their own learning so that they can further enrich the lives of others.

The public has confidence in our profession because our members keep students safe in their care, and because they ensure students have meaningful learning experiences as they prepare to become contributing members of our society.

It’s no surprise that teaching in Ontario is guided by ethical standards of care, trust, respect and integrity. The words, concepts and everyday examples come from the teachers themselves. Developing students’ potential, safeguarding their well-being, modelling fairness, openness and honesty, honouring human dignity, emotional wellness and cognitive development, embracing social justice, freedom and democracy, respecting the environment, acting honestly, reliably, morally and professionally — are the hallmarks of teaching in Ontario. These are the standards the profession aspires to and that the public expects.

The Ontario College of Teachers is responsible for establishing these standards in collaboration with the members of the profession who live them. The College licenses every teacher and administrator in publicly funded schools and school systems in Ontario according to those aspirational statements. Through certification, we grant passage to teach. Through discipline, we can take the privilege to teach away from the small minority of members who do not uphold the standards of the profession. The public is served and protected accordingly.

Parents and members of the public want to know that their trust in our profession is well placed. Classroom teachers, school leaders and district school board leaders advance that trust and earn the respect of their students, parents and the public every day in their work.

Our work as a regulator is to advance the highest ideals of the teaching profession itself. We certify teachers to Ontario’s high standards. We work closely with our teacher preparation institutions to watch over the uniform application of those standards in initial teacher education programs and Additional Qualification programs and courses. And we ensure that the standards are upheld through the appropriate discipline and rehabilitation of those rare few individuals who abuse their privilege to teach.

When I listen to beginning teachers speak passionately and eloquently about students and the reasons they chose our profession, I am often left speechless.

But not quite. You see, I will never be silent about the importance of teaching in the public interest or the privilege I have to champion and counsel the privileged professionals who, to the best of their abilities, serve our students and, in turn, our society.

Michael Salvatori, OCT