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June 1999

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Some Cautions for Principals

Most educators agree that the role of the principal in the school and the community is changing. While much attention has focussed on Bill 160’s removal of principals from their federations and the effect on job security, this was only one element of change in an ever-changing vision of their responsibilities. One responsibility, though, is unchanged – the responsibility to ensure that the teachers in a school are qualified, competent and of good character.

By Margaret Wilson

Principals’ managerial role is receiving a great deal of attention as part of the political debate in education. I have no intention of engaging in major analysis of the managerial role and the balance between teacher leader and manager of a large and complex education enterprise, but I would like to address several managerial issues that intersect with the role of the College.

Once again this year, school boards across the province sent the College membership fees that they had deducted from the pay of hundreds of "teachers" who were not registered with the College.

We did not know who they were, had no home addresses, no school location. They were newly-hired or had returned from leave and no one at the board or school level asked to see their current Certificate of Qualification.

Principals share with school boards the obligation to ensure that their teachers are registered with the College, in good standing, and therefore qualified to teach. Have you checked? Are you aware of your professional obligations under the College of Teachers Act to ensure that you employ only qualified teachers, and the consequences of failing to meet them?


A number of these people – we call them "payroll exceptions" – had expired certificates. Others had Letters of Eligibility. The Letter of Eligibility is not a licence to teach and must be converted to a teaching certificate. We do this very quickly when a school board verifies that a job offer has been made.

Persons who teach while unlicensed are disadvantaged in grid placement and pension. Please ensure that you hire only when the certification process is complete.

Still others of these unlicensed instructors had certificates from other provinces and other countries but no Ontario certificate. This province has always required an Ontario licence. A number of those people had been teaching but cannot qualify in Ontario until they upgrade their qualifications. A few had come from countries where secondary "teachers" may teach on the basis of a degree with no teacher education requirement. It is more than clear from parental complaints that this is not only unacceptable to the profession in Ontario, but to parents as well.

Have you checked their references? Experience in discipline cases shows that all too often in the education system, references are not checked. There is more than one consequence. "Moving on" teachers of dubious competence has been part of our history. So has "moving on" teachers who have abused students. You will find one such case written up in this issue’s Blue Pages.


Even more serious are the cases where school boards have hired teachers whose certificates were cancelled or revoked for professional misconduct. In one case, the individual was hired on a full-time basis by two boards in succession. In another, the person was supply teaching on a regular basis. Reference checks and College register checks will prevent this, and we will all meet our obligations to the safety as well as the education of pupils.

Last, but not least, I understand the varying hiring practices of school boards and that this is a shared responsibility with superintendents and human resources personnel. Depart-ment heads too, where they survive, have some role to play. But I focus on the principal, because when something goes wrong it is the school which is on the front line in managing the difficulty. It is the school council and student council which will want explanations. It is the principal and the teaching staff who will have to do
the explaining.

The moral? Check first. Hire later.