Letís Focus on What 
Makes Us Better Teachers

Teachers have their own ideas about what ongoing professional learning they need to improve their skills and knowledge. New legislative requirements should complement rather than eradicate them.


This past summer, I met with several different groups of teachers who were taking Additional Qualification courses at the University of Ottawa. As usual in such a situation, 
I was impressed at how committed they were to their students and their own professional practice.
They had a myriad of questions related to political initiatives such as criminal record checks, entry to the profession tests and teacher testing and re-certification, to name but a few.
What was apparent to all, myself included, was that I hadnít a lot of answers to give. I tried to summarize the debate and background surrounding the governmentís decision to legislate a compulsory program of professional learning and realized there are several basic facts that have emerged as a result of the debate over re-certification.

C O M M I T M E N T    T O    L I F E L O N G    L E A R N I N G

One is that educators, as professionals, are fundamentally committed to the concept and theory of lifelong learning.
Another is that there are some _people who believe it is possible to guarantee ongoing competency by mandatory upgrading. Re-certification prescribes a program that educators will have to successfully complete, over a five-year period, to maintain their licence to teach in Ontario.
And the third fact is that teachers, as professionals, already participate in professional development activities to the same degree other professional groups do, with one very significant exception. For educators, lifelong learning is one of the foundations of the profession and it is this embedded belief that separates teachers from other professional groups.
These three positions have polarized the debate around ongoing professional development and left a number of issues and concerns still to be addressed at some point.
The public should not be lulled into thinking that re-certification will guarantee competency. It will not. It will only guarantee that certain tasks have been completed within a set period of time.
Re-certification is a clear attempt to make sure that every teacher participates, but at the same time it provides a tangible acknowledgement that the majority already do upgrade their qualifications throughout their career.
It remains to be seen what impact provincially mandated re-certification will have on the school boardsí individual evaluation policies. Many boards now require evidence of ongoing learning as part of their assessment of teachers. It is not clear whether or not boards will change or want to change their policy.
Will there be a significant difference between what teachers do now and what they will be required to do? Minister of Education Janet Ecker has indicated that there will not be a difference. The Minister has acknowledged to the College Council that there are many good programs and opportunities for professional learning for teachers already in place.
She also has indicated that boards and other traditional providers could provide professional development opportunities that would meet the criteria established in the legislation.

E C O G N I Z E    C U R R E N T    A C T I V I T I E S

The Canadian Teachersí Federation recently conducted a national survey of educators and professional development. The results of the survey show quite clearly that teachers are already engaged in both formal and informal learning activities on a regular basis. For the most part, these activities are also being paid for by the participants. We have to make sure that these efforts are recognized, encouraged and not subsumed by the re-certification issue.
There are a number of other practical questions still to be answered on how courses will be approved, how they will be recorded, how teachers will be kept informed of their progress and so on. The details will emerge as the committee of the College responsible for this initiative becomes operational.
More importantly, it is imperative that members of the College recognize that it is up to each one of us to ensure that our fundamental belief in lifelong learning is not side-tracked by other agendas. As professionals, we need to stay focused on what is required to make us better teachers, both inside and outside our classrooms.

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