Leadership. Excellence. Responsibility.

The teaching profession's finest qualities are displayed in the way we regulate our own profession.

by Doug Wilson

Self-regulation in the public interest brings many benefits to Canadians - quality public education and health care, a fair system of justice, safe environments, reliable standards for various professional services.

As part of the governing structure in Ontario, self-regulation predates Confederation - the legal profession was granted self-governing powers in Upper Canada in 1797.

Today, there are 37 self-regulating professional bodies in Ontario and each operates by law in the public interest. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, veterinarians, architects, engineers, chartered accountants and all other self-regulated professions are legally required to put the public interest first.

Yet despite how central this ideal of the public interest is to self-regulation, many professionals and members of the public - including teachers - mistake its meaning and intent.

To understand what self-regulation in the public interest means for the teaching profession, let's understand what it does not mean.

The College has a duty to serve and protect the public interest.
Ontario College of Teachers Act

It doesn't mean that the public determines working conditions for teachers or that the public tells principals how to run schools. Just as there is a distinction to be made between individual teachers and the teaching profession, the public interest is distinct from the interests of members of the public.

Teachers, accustomed to representation by federations, sometimes believe that their regulatory body should represent them in a similar way. That teachers elect representatives to the College's governing Council tends to reinforce this misunderstanding.

Although it may seem counterintuitive in our tradition of representative democracy, Council members are elected to represent the whole profession, not the interests of their particular constituency.

Similarly, members appointed by the government to the College Council are not there to follow government directives or represent private interests. They too are charged with ensuring that the teaching profession develops to serve a quality public education system.

The public interest is the common interest.

The public interest is the common interest among elected and appointed Council members. Ideally, all Council members come to the table to work together to make decisions that support broad societal objectives.

Self-regulation of the teaching profession in the public interest assumes that teachers have the knowledge and the expertise to set standards and to judge the conduct of members of their profession on behalf of the public. Self-regulation means that teachers' interests and the public interest will often coincide and that decisions made that benefit the public will also benefit and be strongly supported by individual teachers.

Self-regulation helps the profession build and sustain public trust by making the profession accountable for the standards it sets and for those it certifies and disciplines. The voices of parents and community members on our governing Council help to ensure that the teaching profession responds to the needs of a diverse student population.

The Royal Commission on Learning report - For the Love of Learning, 1995 - recommended that

a professional, self-regulatory body for teaching, the Ontario College of Teachers, be established . The college should be responsible for determining professional standards, certification, and accreditation of teacher education programs. Professional educators should form a majority of the membership of the college, with substantial representation of non-educators from the community at large.

Almost a decade later, that vision holds. Ontario's Minister of Education Gerard Kennedy stressed the importance of the public interest in self-regulation when he spoke to the College Council in June. "The College exists for one reason and it is not for teachers' interest. It can't be," he said. "The College is a delegation of authority and responsibility from the government for the public interest, and only a select number of professions are capable of sustaining that."