Letters of Distinction

Ontario teachers – like other professionals – now have their own professional designation. 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.

by Stuart Foxman / photo by Matthew Plexman

“I’m going to use the designation. Teachers should be recognized ... we’ve earned it.”

Steve McGrail, OCT, who teaches Grades 7 and 8 at Lambton Central Centennial School in Petrolia, has been in the profession for 11 years. That’s how he considers teaching – as a profession. But with a wife who’s a physiotherapist, he guesses that most people would call her the professional in the family. After all, that’s how health care workers are typically viewed. McGrail’s wife has always had a professional designation, PT, to use beside her name.

Now, McGrail has his own designation – OCT, which stands for Ontario Certified Teacher.

“It gives some added credibility to the profession,” he says. “A designation puts the emphasis on our training and qualifications.”

Last year, the College Council approved proposals from the Quality Assurance Committee to grant a professional designation to all members in good standing. The College is implementing the OCT designation for the 2009–10 school year.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to adopt a professional designation for teachers, with the BC College of Teachers looking to follow. In England, Wales and Scotland, teachers added a professional designation earlier this decade.

Though rare in teaching, such designations are the norm across regulated professions. An Ontario College of Teachers review of 32 other statutory professional regulators in Ontario found that 28 have a professional designation for their members – from PEng for professional engineers to RN for nurses. One of the newest professional designations in Ontario will be familiar to educators – ECE, for members of the Ontario College of Early Childhood Educators.

Until now, however, as regulated professionals without a title, teachers were pretty much an exception.

What could the OCT designation mean to the teaching profession? And what do teachers and other professional bodies think about the change?

Defining professional status

A designation from a regulatory body – as opposed to a job title – can be a public sign of professionalism. “It indicates accountability to the profession,” says Pamela Blake, deputy registrar of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers.

In the case of the Ontario College of Teachers, the OCT designation could serve several purposes. Chief among these is defining teachers’ professional status and their adherence to the profession’s ethical and practice standards.

The new title also underscores the unique qualifications of teachers, distinct from those of other individuals who help to deliver education, such as student support personnel, teaching assistants and early childhood educators.

“The OCT designation recognizes that we own a core set of skills and a particular body of knowledge,” says Don Cattani, OCT, who served as Chair of Council when the title was developed. “There are certain things that only a lawyer can do. And there are things that require a certified teacher’s expertise. Ontario teachers have specialized training that prepares them to deliver specific curriculum.”

Potentially, having a title could enhance fellowship and shared identity among members of the teaching profession. It could also boost the image of the profession for teachers and the public alike.

When the College conducted member surveys about introducing a professional designation for teachers in Ontario – including specific questions in the annual members’ telephone survey in July 2008, focus groups in four Ontario locations and an online survey sent to 25,000 randomly selected College members – it found a huge disparity in their perceptions of their profession.

For instance, 80 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that teaching is as much of a profession as medicine, nursing, engineering or accounting. Yet just 56 per cent strongly agreed that, as Ontario teachers, they felt like members of a profession. An even smaller number, 28 per cent, strongly agreed that the public considers teaching to be a profession.

Tellingly, teachers said that a title would be one way to reinforce that they are equal to other professionals. That was the number two reason cited by members in support of a title in last year’s telephone survey (Member Survey, September 2008). The number one reason: to signal that teachers have distinct skills and knowledge.

Do titles matter?

After more than 30 years as a teacher, JoAnne Black, OCT, of Corpus Christi Catholic SS in Burlington says she doesn’t need a title to feel like a professional – which she certainly does.

Still, she says, a title would “set me apart” from other types of educators. And a title could be one more element that illustrates to the public the importance of the profession.

A title can matter to a group of professionals, certainly if it is publicized widely to the public, says Dan Davidson, OCT, a Grade 5 teacher at St. James the Greater Catholic School in Smiths Falls.

“It is the ideal that the title or designation represents the highest standard,” says Davidson. “In time, OCT will be a source of recognition and, depending on professional behaviour and good advertising, a matter of respect.”

Teachers have, of course, always found ways to signal their professionalism. In the College’s 2008 online survey of members, they were virtually unanimous (96 per cent) in saying that they demonstrated their professionalism by the way they conducted themselves at school. In addition, 12 per cent cited using their education qualifications after their name on documents, 17 per cent said they displayed their degree(s) and 11 per cent displayed their Certificate of Qualification from the College.

The title provides a new way for teachers to assert that professionalism.

“I am going to use this title,” says Caroline Cantin, OCT, a teaching consultant at the Conseil scolaire de district du Centre-Sud-Ouest. “I feel that we’ve obtained it because we’ve earned it. This title is as valid as that of registered nurse or any other title.”

She hopes that the College will publicly promote the new title as “teachers need to be recognized for their true value,” with teaching having “no less value than any other respected profession.”

Demonstrating competency

Members of other professional bodies say that the OCT title could eventually become a form of brand for teachers.

“The designation demonstrates competency and provides an opportunity to promote the profession,” says Richard Benn, the executive vice-president of member development at CMA Canada, which regulates the certified management accountant designation.

Benn, whose daughter and son-in-law both happen to be teachers, says a teacher who has an OCT will be “a known quantity,” which could mean something in the marketplace.

Mona Ghiami, Director of Career Information for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario, also refers to the benefits of branding. She notes that among accountants, the CA designation is the “highest pinnacle” and “lends instant credibility.” The OCT title could well do the same for teachers, she says, “and will hopefully garner them the respect they deserve.”

Another factor to consider is that “teacher” is a common noun, used to describe everyone from the math teacher to the sensei who gives karate lessons. As it becomes established, the OCT title could help to define the special role of school teachers.

“It would differentiate members of the Ontario College of Teachers from other teachers,” says Christine Simpson, assistant registrar at the College of Veterinarians of Ontario.

Members of other professional colleges note that the impact of the OCT title will depend largely on how well it is publicized. But among members of the profession it may well contribute to a sense of self-worth.

“It should certainly add to professional pride,” says Beth Ann Kenny, co-ordinator of the Federation of Health Regulatory Colleges of Ontario, the umbrella group for the province’s regulated health-profession colleges. “Teachers should find this something to celebrate.”

Cantin agrees. “It’s time we had a professional designation. It will instill in us the pride we’re entitled to vis-à-vis our profession. We’ve worked hard to get where we are, and we have a significant impact on the lives of young people. It will also raise the self-esteem of new teachers to be recognized as professionals.”

Titles gain meaning over time. Ontario’s future teachers may quite possibly attach even more worth to the OCT designation than do current teachers. But for any teacher, the Ontario Certified Teacher title could support the idea of teaching as a profession, not just an occupation.

“It might give us more prestige,” McGrail speculates. “Some people consider teaching to be a job, and it could be seen more as a profession. We will have the letters to back it up.”

Professional designation chronology
  • September 2007 – Council asks the Registrar to prepare a report on a professional designation for Ontario teachers.

  • March 2008 – Council unanimously approves the report’s recommendations, including consulting with members.

  • July 2008 – COMPAS Inc surveys a random sample of 1,000 members by phone. Sixty-six per cent support the designation, 40 per cent strongly.

  • August 2008 – Members participate in the Angus Reid Strategies e-mail survey, selecting Ontario Certified Teacher (OCT) in English and Enseignante agréée de l’Ontario or Enseignant agréé de l’Ontario (EAO) in French.

  • September 2008 – Council approves the granting of OCT or EAO as a professional designation to all members in good standing with the Ontario College of Teachers.

Using the OCT

Now that members of the College have a professional designation, how should they use it? Certainly, the more you and your colleagues use the OCT designation, the more it will be recognized, spreading the message of your professionalism.

Here are some possible uses:

  • Business cards: The OCT designation should immediately follow your name, separated by a comma, and precede academic or other professional qualifications. For example: Joan Smith, OCT, PhD, BA.

  • E-mail: You can use OCT in the signature block on your outbound e-mail messages. Use the same format as on business cards.

  • Handwritten notes: In notes to your students’ parents, feel free to use your OCT designation when signing off (as above). Handwritten use of the OCT designation is a powerful signal that you belong to a recognized profession.

  • Media: You’re encouraged to use OCT in articles you submit to professional publications. It should appear on web sites and in books, magazines, brochures, reports and elsewhere when you’re providing professional expertise or commentary and when you’re quoted by the media.

  • Biographies/promotion: Your OCT title can be part of your profile in trade and conference publications, highlighting you as a guest speaker or presenter.

  • Professional correspondence and presentations: Use it in your memos and PowerPoint presentations and on report cards.

For more on the new title and its use, please see the guide OCT – Your Professional Designation, available in the Members' Area.

How the College will use your designation

The College will use the Ontario Certified Teacher professional designation in its ongoing communication with members and the public. The College will apply the OCT abbreviation to member certificates in print and on Find a Teacher. You will also see examples of its use in:

  • Professionally Speaking
  • written correspondence
  • electronic newsletters
  • e-mails
  • guides
  • brochures
  • documents.

Starting in 2010, new members will receive a document indicating that the College Council has bestowed on them the title of Ontario Certified Teacher, which they will retain as long as they remain in good standing with the College.

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