Dr. Dawn C. Wallin

August 20, 2014 8:02 PM

























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































CHAPTER NINE: Teachers and the Teaching Profession (5th Edition)


A small group of teachers stopped for a moment in the board office parking lot on their way out of that evening’s professional-development symposium, which had been sponsored jointly by their school board and the local chapter of the teachers’ federation. “ok, Sue, you’re not far from my place. I’ll drop you off,” said Larry, a chemistry and physics teacher at Foothills Collegiate. “See the rest of you tomorrow.” As the two of them headed for Larry’s station wagon, the rest of the group—André, Lisa, and Anya—climbed into Garret’s van and fastened their seat belts as they joined the line of cars filing out of the parking lot.

“Well,” Garret asked, “What did you think? I thought he was pretty good.” Garret was the half-time vice-principal at Foothills Collegiate, where Larry, André, and Anya taught, and where Sue and Lisa were currently completing their student teaching placement. The evening’s speaker had been a superintendent visiting from out of the province. In his talk, entitled “The Extended Professional Teacher,” he had described the way in which his district had attempted systematically to stimulate and support professional growth among its teachers.

“Yeah, I really appreciated what he had to say,” added Carol. “I wrote down his definition of the extended professional: ‘a capacity for autonomous professional development through systematic self-study, through the study of the work of other teachers, and through the testing of ideas by classroom research procedures.’ But to hear how they were actually doing it—with teacher research teams conducting their own action research on key issues like student retention or violence in school, and with teachers actually sitting in on each other’s classes and sharing their experience and expertise with each other—I mean, most of us talk about doing that kind of stuff, but to have a superintendent who not only encourages it but actually provides resources to make it happen, that’s really exciting.”

“I think what he said about making critical links to the existing research was important too,” added André, “so we’re not just throwing around our own opinions but also testing them against the research, and also testing the research against our own experience. I think his district would be a neat place to work—a place where they give you the time and opportunity to sit down and talk about important educational issues. What did he call it? ‘Critical professional discourse,’ I think. We need that sort of opportunity here if we’re going to keep growing as teachers over the length of our careers.”

“Well,” said Garret, “you know we’ve tried to do that with the student teacher project. I know it’s only a beginning, but we do meet on a regular basis about that, and it does link us to the university as partners in designing and supervising students’ practice teaching experiences. But I agree it is pretty much a one-of-a-kind activity. In our district, it’s really up to teachers to take care of their own professional development. Perhaps we should develop some school-based initiatives of our own. I think the principal might go for it, and I’m sure the staff would.”

Meanwhile, as they drove away from the board office, Larry and Sue were having a quite different conversation. “He should have called his presentation ‘The Over-Extended Professional,’ Larry commented. “I don’t know why I came in the first place. I should be home dealing with the pile of marking I have to get back to my chemistry class tomorrow. I’ll be up half the night now. I mean, it sounds all right in theory maybe, but if we’re going to be seen as professionals I say what we need to do is to get serious about what it is that we do: teach kids in classrooms. If we pay attention to that, keep up on our own subject and on our teaching and make sure that the kids in our classes are learning what we’re supposed to be teaching them, then I don’t see how you can have time for ‘action research’ or whatever. I get quite angry at the number of days that some teachers spend away from their classes on curriculum committees or doing workshops and the like. Sometimes that’s what I call unprofessional. I don’t think we all have to be philosophers and researchers to be professional—we just have to be given the supports to do our job and then left alone to get on with it. I work damned hard, and my kids always get among the best science results in the province. That’s how I’m professional, and I think that’s how we should judge the profession.”


The status of public school teachers in Canada has long been a topic of debate, and some sensitivity, among teachers and teacher organizations. Among Canadian teachers, the legitimacy of their claim to be regarded as professionals is usually vigorously asserted, and the desirability of enhanced professionalism is often taken for granted. However, occupational groups do not attain professional status simply by self-proclamation. Governments have historically resisted efforts to afford teachers professional autonomy, and, within the academic literature on professions, teaching—along with activities such as social work and nursing—is more likely to be classified as a “semi-profession.”

Over the last twenty plus years, as Hargreaves and Fullan (2012) note, the issue of teacher professionalization in Canada and elsewhere has become increasingly prominent as governments, bureaucracies, and big business have begun to sponsor various approaches to this project.  Paradoxically, governments are promoting initiatives such as self-regulation and the establishment of professional standards of practice which seem to support the goals of teacher professionalization while simultaneously implementing changes that work in the opposite direction, such as the centralization of curriculum and assessment decision making and the capping of teachers’ salaries. One way of interpreting these apparent contradictions is to see aspects of teachers’ work “becoming reprofessionalized in ways that involve broader tasks, greater complexity, more sophisticated judgment, and collective decision-making among colleagues, while other parts are becoming deprofessionalized in terms of pragmatic training, reduced discretion over goals and increased dependence on detailed learning outcomes prescribed by others” (Goodson & Hargreaves, 1996, p. 3).

In the first part of this chapter, we examine the concept of professionalism and its utility in understanding and describing the work of teachers. From this examination, we will develop a position, already foreshadowed in earlier chapters of this book, for thinking about teaching as a unique kind of profession. The second half of the chapter considers the implications of this professional identity for the practice of public school teachers and the structuring of relations in public school, and also discusses the roles of teachers’ professional associations in Canada.



In everyday life, the terms “profession” and “professional” have a very broad range of meanings; in the academic literature, however, they have traditionally been more narrowly defined. Despite this, there is still some variation in the ways in which these terms are derived and used. Their meanings are most often developed through an examination of the characteristics of so-called “true professions”(especially medicine and law). From this examination emerges an ideal type or model consisting of a series of characteristics that serve to separate professions from other occupations. Four examples of widely accepted definitions of profession are included in Table 9.1. It should be noted that the Rich, and Hoy and Miskel definitions relate to the characteristics of a profession in general, the Rodriguez definitions relate specifically to teaching as a profession.  While each has its own unique emphasis and language, these definitions share the following broad characteristics:

1.         A profession possesses a unique body of knowledge that is obtained by its members over a long period of formal training. Professionals are continually adding to this knowledge throughout their careers.
2.         A profession is an essential service that is held in high regard by society at large; as such, its members are usually afforded high status in the society.
3.         A profession is afforded a high degree of autonomy and is self-regulating. Professional bodies possess a code of ethics and regulate both entry into the profession and the behaviour of their members. Individual members exercise independent judgment in carrying out their work within the profession’s rules, and depend on their peers rather than their superiors for advice and direction.

Such lists of characteristics have the conceptual status of an “ideal type”: no occupation fully embodies each of these characteristics, and different occupations vary over time and from place to place in the extent to which they meet each of the defining characteristics. Given this perspective, the ideal type does more than simply enable us to determine whether teaching (or any other occupation) makes it into the elite ranks of the professions; as an analytical tool, it allows us to examine the ways in which teaching approximates each of these attributes so that we can better understand the nature of public schools and the organization of teaching. Accordingly, the next section examines how the above characteristics of professions have been viewed in relation to teaching.

Table 9.1 Definitions of “Profession”





•     a high degree of general and systematized knowledge;

•     technical competence gained through long training;

•     a full-time occupation;

•     a long period of specialized, intellectual training;

•     a set of professional ideals, including a service ideal, impersonality, and impartiality;

•     substantial, university-based training;

•     intellectual practice;

•     autonomy in professional decision making; and

•     professional associations; and

•     a unique social service;

•     self-imposed control based on knowledge standards and peer review.

•     a code of ethics

•     controls standards of entry and exclusion;



•     enforces a professional code of ethics; and


•     belief in service to the a public;

•     grants a broad range of autonomy to members.


•     belief in self-regulation and colleague control;



•     a sense of calling to the field; and



•     a belief in individual, professional autonomy.




Hall, R. (1986). Professionalization and bureaucratization. American Sociological Review, 33(1), 92–93.

Rich, J. (1984). Professional ethics in education. Springfield, Il: C. Thomas.

Hoy, W., & Miskel, C. (1987). Educational administration (3rd ed., pp. 148–50). New York: Random House.



The drive for recognition as a profession by Canadian teachers has often involved attempts to demonstrate a close approximation to the ideal type and more specifically to try to replicate those characteristics seen to be exhibited by high-status professions. This argument for professional status is referred to by Soder (1990) as a similitude argument.

A Unique Body of Knowledge

Whether or not teaching possesses a clearly defined, highly developed, unique body of specialized knowledge that is demonstrably linked to professional proficiency has been a subject of some debate. In recent years, a substantial amount of educational research has been developed to inform professional practice. There have also been efforts to systematize this knowledge into a coherent body that could be defined as teachers’ professional knowledge, and that could then serve as a basis for the preparation and certification of teachers (Canadian Association of Deans of Education, 2009; Mumby, Russell & Martin, 2001; Shulman, 1987). It would be difficult to argue that this process has achieved the status of some other professions. Most teachers still say that they learned most of what they needed on the job, and that most hold a relatively low opinion of their professional training. On the other hand, many researchers believe that there is a formal knowledge base to guide educational practice (Hattie, 2008). For example, it could be argued that the Standards of Practice developed by the Ontario College of Teachers constitutes a claim towards naming a distinct body of knowledge for the teaching profession. 

An Essential Service

Given the long-standing compulsory nature of schooling, it is not difficult to make the argument that public schools constitute an essential service. In Canada, public opinion has generally placed a high value on schooling and the work of teachers, and although schooling has come under increased public and media scrutiny, public confidence in schools remains high especially when compared to other public and private institutions.

Several longitudinal surveys of Canadian public attitudes toward education have been carried out by the Canadian Education Association (CEA) and by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. In a 2007 national survey conducted by the CEA (people were asked to assign a grade to their community school: 81 percent gave an A, B, or C grade, and only 12 percent assigned a D or F grade. In the same survey, 70% expressed a high level of satisfaction with the job teachers were doing (Canadian Education Association, 2007).  These ratings compare well with other public institutions. 


Until quite recently, Canadian teachers have not had responsibility for regulating the profession and have not been able to exercise control over the standards of entry into teaching or the professional conduct of teachers. Rather, it was the minister of education in each province who retained sole authority for issuing teaching certificates and who alone could revoke them for incompetence or misconduct.

In 1987, British Columbia became the first Canadian province to make its teachers self-regulating when the Teacher Profession Act (1987) established the British Columbia College of Teachers. This Act in essence assigned to the British Columbia College of Teachers sole responsibility for governing the profession’s standards of entry, discipline, and professional development, and in doing so distinguished these from other interests pursued by the traditional teachers’ association, such as collective bargaining and the welfare of teachers. In 1996 Ontario moved to create a similar self-regulating body with the passage of the College of Teachers Act (1996). The Ontario College is governed by a Governing Council of 31 people, the majority (17) of whom are elected by members of the College and must be qualified teachers, with the remainder (14) appointed by the Minister of Education to represent the broader public interest. The College is charged by the Act to set standards for teacher education and teacher practice, and to concern itself with issues of professional self-regulation as well as public accountability (Ontario College of Teachers, 1996). In both cases professional roles as shown in Box 9.1 were intended to be clearly separated from the collective bargaining and welfare activities of the Teachers’ Federations.

The brief history of Canada’s two Colleges of Teachers has not been without its controversies (Gannon, 2005; Smaller, 1995) so much so that in 2011 the British Columbia government dissolved the B.C. College of Teachers and returned most of the College’s function to the Ministry of Education (Glegg, 2013). In retrospect, despite the high hopes when they were created, it’s doubtful that either college made any substantial change in the professional status of teachers and teaching (Davidson-Harden, 2005; Grimmett & Young, 2012).

BOX 9.3 The Ontario College of Teachers: Roles and Responsibilities

The Ontario College of Teachers was established to regulate and govern the province’s teaching profession. The College, established in 1996, has responsibility for developing standards of teaching practice, regulating teacher certification and professional development, and accrediting teacher education programs.

The document Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession was approved by the Council of the Ontario College of Teachers in 1999. The standards are based upon core statements in five areas:
•     Commitment to students and student learning
•     Professional knowledge
•     Teaching practice
•     Leadership and community
•     Ongoing professional learning
For each area key elements are included that illustrate and elaborate upon the core statement.

The Ontario College of Teachers is responsible for the accreditation of pre-service education programs at faculties of education in Ontario universities. It also accredits forms of in-service professional development, including the province’s Additional Qualifications Courses, the Principal’s Qualification Program, and the Supervisory Officer’s Qualification Program. The College also has the authority to:
•     Regulate teaching qualifications
•     Set membership criteria, enroll members, and create a provincial register of teachers
•     Investigate complaints involving members and allegations of professional misconduct, and take appropriate disciplinary action

Source: The Ontario College of Teachers website <http://www.oct.on.ca>.


For some authors (e.g. Coulter & Orme, 2000; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012), the differences between the practice of occupations such as medicine and law and those of teaching (particularly public school teaching) suggest the inappropriateness of efforts to define and pursue teacher professionalism according to the standards established for other occupations. For example, professionals in some fields do not work well collegially whereas teachers need to do so.  Many professions try to keep their specialized knowledge secret from their clients, while teachers must work collaboratively with students and parents as well as colleagues.        

One could go on elaborating differences, but the point is that these differences do not necessarily constitute grounds for downplaying the professional status of public school teaching. What they do require is that we recast the concept of professionalism as it is applied to the nature of public schools and the organization of teaching. Hargreaves & Fullan (2012) develop this idea in detail in their concept of ‘professional capital’.

Another similar formulation can be found in  Goodson and Hargreaves (1996).  They review four alternative versions of teacher professionalism which they refer to as “flexible professionalism,” “practical professionalism,” “extended professionalism,” and “complex professionalism,” and propose a fifth version, “postmodern professionalism.” This fifth version they see as driven primarily, not by interests of self-serving status enhancement or of technical competence and personal, practical reflection, but by a moral and sociopolitical vision of teaching as serving the educative goals of caring communities and vigorous social democracies. For them teacher professionalism in the contemporary complex, postmodern age should mean:

•           increased opportunity and responsibility to exercise discretionary judgment over the issues of teaching, curriculum and care that affect one’s students;
•           opportunities and expectations to engage with the moral and social purposes and values of what teachers teach, along with major curriculum and assessment matters in which these purposes are embedded;
•           commitment to working with colleagues in collaborative cultures of help and support as a way of using shared expertise to solve the ongoing problems of professional practice, rather than engaging in joint work as a motivational device to implement the external mandates of others;
•           occupational heterogeneity rather than self-protective autonomy, where teachers work authoritatively yet openly and collaboratively with other partners in a wider community (especially parents and students themselves), who have a significant stake in the students’ learning;
•           a commitment to active care not just anodyne service for students. Professionalism must in this sense acknowledge and embrace the emotional as well as the cognitive dimensions of teaching, and also recognize the skills and dispositions that are essential to committed and effective caring;
•           a self-directed search and struggle for continuous learning related to one’s own expertise and standards of practice, rather than compliance with the enervating obligations of endless change demanded by others (often under the guise of continuous learning or improvement);
•           the creation and recognition of high task complexity, with levels of status and reward appropriate to such complexity (Goodson & Hargreaves, 1996, pp. 20–21).

Such a view corresponds with Rodrigue’s (2004) ideas, supported by the Canadian Teachers
Federation, that teacher professionalism includes knowledge, education, autonomy, activism,
altruism and collegiality.



There is an obvious relationship between what it means to be a member of a profession and what it means to act professionally. As in other professions, the latter is addressed in teaching by a code of professional practice that is laid out by most, but not all, provincial teachers’ associations in Canada. While each provincial association has its own code, there is a considerable degree of similarity among provinces (see Box 9.2 for an example of a code of professional conduct, and the website references for access to all provincial unions, associations, federations, societies and colleges of teachers. Just as the characteristics of a profession cannot capture the complexities of what it means to be a profession, so too a code of ethics represents only a skeletal outline of what it means to be a professional.

The Purposes and Functions of Codes of Ethics

As a guide to professional conduct, an enforced code of ethics serves several functions. First, it provides some assurance to its clients that they can expect to be treated in accordance with established standards of practice and acceptable moral conduct. Second, it offers the general public some confidence that the profession is serving a public interest worthy of trust and support. Third, it offers a set of uniform rules and standards that define for its members acceptable professional behaviour, and that provide a basis for properly regulating their conduct (Rich, 1984, pp. 6–7).

BOX 9.4 The Alberta Teachers’ Association Code of Professional Conduct

The Code of Professional Conduct stipulates minimum standards of professional conduct of teachers but is not an exhaustive list of such standards. Unless exempted by legislation, any member of The Alberta Teachers’ Association who is alleged to have violated the standards of the profession, including the provisions of the Code, may be subject to a charge of unprofessional conduct under the Discipline Bylaws of the Association.

1.   The teacher teaches in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of all persons without prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, colour, sex, sexual orientation, physical characteristics, age, ancestry or place of origin.
2.   (1) The teacher is responsible for diagnosing educational needs, prescribing and implementing instructional programs and evaluating progress of pupils.
(2) The teacher may not delegate these responsibilities to any person who is not a teacher.
3.   The teacher may delegate specific and limited aspects of instructional activity to noncertificated personnel, provided that the teacher supervises and directs such activity.
4.   The teacher treats pupils with dignity and respect and is considerate of their circumstances.
5.   The teacher may not divulge information about a pupil received in confidence or in the course of professional duties except as required by law or where, in the judgment of the teacher, to do so is in the best interest of the pupil.
6.   The teacher may not accept pay for tutoring a pupil in any subjects in which the teacher is responsible for giving classroom instruction to that pupil.
7.   The teacher may not take advantage of a professional position to profit from the sale of goods or services to or for pupils in the teacher’s charge.

8.   The teacher protests the assignment of duties for which the teacher is not qualified or conditions which make it difficult to render professional service.
9.   The teacher fulfills contractual obligations to the employer until released by mutual consent or according to law.
10. The teacher provides as much notice as possible of a decision to terminate employment.
11. The teacher adheres to agreements negotiated on the teacher’s behalf by the Association.

12. The teacher does not undermine the confidence of pupils in other teachers.
13. The teacher criticizes the professional competence or professional reputation of another teacher only in confidence to proper officials and after the other teacher has been informed of the criticism, subject only to Section 23 of the Teaching Profession Act.*
14. The teacher, when making a report on the professional performance of another teacher, does so in good faith and, prior to submitting the report, provides the teacher with a copy of the report, subject only to Section 23 of the Teaching Profession Act.*
15. The teacher does not take, because of animosity or for personal advantage, any steps to secure the dismissal of another teacher.
16. The teacher recognizes the duty to protest through proper channels administrative policies and practices which the teacher cannot in conscience accept; and further recognizes that if administration by consent fails, the administrator must adopt a position of authority.
17. The teacher as an administrator provides opportunities for staff members to express their opinions and to bring forth suggestions regarding the administration of the school.

18. The teacher acts in a manner which maintains the honour and dignity of the profession.
19. The teacher does not engage in activities which adversely affect the quality of the teacher’s professional service.
20. The teacher submits to the Association disputes arising from professional relationships with other teachers which cannot be resolved by personal discussion.
21. The teacher makes representations on behalf of the Association or members thereof only when authorized to do so.
22. The teacher accepts that service to the Association is a professional responsibility.
*items 13 and 14 do not pertain to reporting to the association on the possible unprofessional conduct of another member. section 23(3) of the teaching profession act requires members to report forthwith to the executive secretary on the unprofessional conduct of another member.

Source: Source: The Alberta Teachers’ Association.  (2005).  Code of professional conduct.  www.teachers.ab.ca

The organization of the Alberta Teachers’ Association code into categories that outline the responsibilities of teachers to pupils, school authorities, colleagues, and to the profession is similar to that found in most codes.  Codes of ethics tend to combine general statements of overriding ideals and principles (e.g., “a teacher’s first responsibility is to the pupils in his or her charge”) and quite specific procedures and rules of professional conduct (e.g., reporting suspected child abuse). Provincial teachers’ organizations are responsible for enforcing their codes, and for dealing with cases of unprofessional conduct While most do not have the authority to withdraw a member’s teaching certificate or to remove teachers from their teaching positions, they may reprimand their members, expel them from the organization, and, in the most serious of infractions, recommend to the minister of education that their certification be revoked. 

Teachers and Pupils

The prime responsibility of teachers is the educational well-being of their students. To accomplish this task, the professional teacher creates, along with other educators, an appropriate learning environment for each student that takes into account individual interests, needs, and abilities. This commitment to each student is spelled out in the Alberta Teachers’ Association code: “The teacher teaches in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of all persons without prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, color, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical characteristics, disability, marital status, family status, age, ancestry, place of origin, place of residence, socioeconomic background or linguistic background”.   Of course writing down the obligation is one thing; carrying it out every day in practice, as discussed in earlier chapters, is very difficult.

Professional competence is often recognized by the expectation (1) that teachers will participate in a career-long process of professional development; and (2), in the words of the Alberta Teachers’ Association code, that “the teacher protests the assignment of duties for which the teacher is not qualified or conditions which make it difficult to render professional service.”  The websites of teachers associations across the nation are listed in the website section of this text for easy access to provincial and territorial codes of professional practice.

Teachers and Colleagues

Professional status requires teachers to respect the expertise of their colleagues, to refrain from acting in ways that undermine professional authority, and to deal with collegial disputes in a professional manner. This means that teachers are expected to follow clearly defined procedures if they wish to criticize the professional activity of a colleague, or if they oppose decisions duly agreed upon by other teachers. Failure to do so could lead to disciplinary action by the appropriate teachers’ association.           

Whether such regulation of a teacher’s criticism of a colleague could be deemed a violation of the teacher’s freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Charter was a question addressed in a British Columbia court case (Cromer v. British Columbia Teachers’ Federation). Cromer, a teacher and parent with a child attending a school in the school district in which she worked, attended a parent advisory committee at which concerns were expressed about the sex-education program in which her child was enrolled. At the meeting, she became involved in a heated exchange with her child’s teacher in which she made a number of derogatory personal criticisms of the teacher. The teacher complained to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation that this violated its code of ethics, and the BCTF initiated disciplinary proceedings. Cromer maintained that the charge violated her freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Charter. However, at trial and on appeal the code of ethics was upheld. The Court of Appeal judge commented:

The code of ethics is designed to avoid disharmony among teaching colleagues, and to promote professional standards, all in the interests of creating an environment where the children being taught will receive the best educational opportunity possible. The code of ethics does not preclude criticism by one teacher of another; it sets out a procedure for making criticism that is intended to increase the beneficial effects of the criticism and minimize the harmful effects.

Because the criticisms were addressed personally to the teacher and not at the specific subject matter under consideration, the judge concluded:

In my opinion, the “freedom of expression” guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is capable of overriding cl. 5 of the code of ethics of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. To determine whether it does so in any particular case depends on a weighing and balancing of the interests involved, as has always been the case with “freedom of expression” questions. In this case, I do not consider that Mrs. Cromer’s interests in saying what she is alleged to have said were sufficient to override the interests underlying cl. 5 of the code of ethics.

In another case in which an Alberta teacher made critical comments in the context of her role as a parent at a meet-the-teacher night with her own children’s teacher, the court again ruled that the teacher, while acting as a private individual, was still bound by her professional code of conduct (Teachers’ unprofessional conduct, 2001, May).

The Teacher and Authority

As employees in a bureaucratic organization who also see themselves as professionals, teachers often face conflicts between what the organization wishes them to do and what they regard as being the best decision. For example, a teacher may disagree with a particular school policy, may feel that a student has been treated unfairly, or may feel that a curriculum change is not in the best interests of students. Teachers in these situations face difficult dilemmas. To what extent should they publicly express their views? For example, in school climates that are not built on trust and professionalism, a teacher who voices an opinion that is unpopular, either with colleagues or with the school administrator, runs the risk of being penalized in a variety of ways. He or she may receive a less positive evaluation, may be given a less desirable teaching assignment, or may have a harder time getting resources and support for a favourite course or project. Administrators are in a position to impose such sanctions without ever making it evident that a teacher is being penalized, although one would hope that leaders would not stoop to such tactics.  In fact, teachers may often overestimate the likelihood of their being penalized for expressing their ideas.

On the other hand, it is part of one’s responsibility as a professional to voice one’s views and concerns in an open and constructive manner. The Alberta Teachers’ Association code deals explicitly with this by stating: “The teacher as an administrator provides opportunities for staff members to express their opinions and to bring forth suggestions regarding the administration of the school.”  Surely administrators would want to know if people had serious concerns about their proposals. It cannot be desirable for people to keep quiet in public and grumble in private about decisions. Being a professional carries with it the responsibility to act in the best interests of one’s profession, even when there may be a personal cost involved. All of these points suggest that teachers should take a stand on important issues.

It might also be appropriate to reflect on the parallels between teachers and students. If teachers are reluctant, despite the protections of their adult status and their membership in a professional organization, to speak out about their concerns, then much more so are students, who have none of these protections and who are much more vulnerable to coercion and retribution for expressing unpopular opinions. (Chapter Four raised the issue of the school as a democratic community in which it would be desirable to provide vehicles for everyone to express opinions in an open but constructive way.)

As in so many areas, no clear and unambiguous answer to this dilemma is possible. Teachers have to decide what steps seem warranted. Depending on the situation, discretion may or may not be the better part of valour. On occasion, a teacher might consider collective rather than individual action, since acting with colleagues provides both a stronger statement and a measure of protection from reprisal. Such decisions are essentially matters of conscience, which is another way of saying there is no formula for resolving them.


The Private Lives of Teachers

The expectations of teachers as professionals do not stop at the entrance to the school. What teachers do in their lives out of school cannot necessarily be deemed irrelevant to their work in the classroom, as clearly illustrated in the highly publicized and precedent-setting case of New Brunswick teacher Malcolm Ross. In 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that his publication of anti-Semitic books and pamphlets during his off-duty time contributed to a discriminatory and “poisoned” school environment and required that the school board remove him from any teaching position (Ross v. New Brunswick S D, 1996).

There has long been a public expectation in Canada that teachers lead morally exemplary lives. Some codes of ethics have chosen to avoid statements about teachers’ private lives. Others articulate a requirement that teachers uphold the professional reputation of their work. For example, the Alberta Teachers’ Association code requires that “[t]he teacher acts in a manner which maintains the honour and dignity of the profession” and “does not engage in activities which adversely affect the quality of [his or her] professional service.”

Not so long ago, teachers could be (and frequently were) dismissed for entering a bar or a pool hall, presumably for fear that they would set a bad example for the students in their care. Although standards have changed today, teachers’ private lives are still sometimes relevant to their employment. Issues of teachers’ out-of-school conduct can and do arise in many different contexts. The general standard accepted in law is that private behaviour “not impair one’s fitness to teach” (Hurlbert & Hurlbert, 1992, p. 186), but this does not necessarily resolve all the problems.  Often the determination of what constitutes that fitness to teach is based on the moral standards of the community of which the teacher is a part.  For example, in another well known case, two teachers’ passion for photography outside of the classroom lead to their suspension without pay for four weeks (Shewan & Shewan v. Abbotsford, 1987). Mr. Shewan submitted a semi-nude photograph of Mrs. Shewan to a “men's” magazine in which it was published as part of an amateur photography feature.  The issue that became central to the case was the fact that the photo was accessed by students. In determining the judgment, the position clearly stated by the courts was the following:

Teachers must not only be competent, but they are expected to lead by example. Any loss of confidence or respect will impair the system, and have an adverse effect upon those who participate in or rely upon it. That is why a teacher must maintain a standard of behaviour which most other citizens need not observe because they do not have such public responsibilities to fulfil. (1987)

Essentially, court rulings suggest that teachers do have some right to pursue a lifestyle of their choice, provided that their behavior does not have such detrimental effects on students or the school that it impairs the teacher’s ability to teach in the school.

Canadians vary widely in the standard of behaviour that they find proper or acceptable, which can create problems for teachers. Even the case of crime is not clear-cut. A teacher convicted of a crime could be dismissed from his or her job on the grounds that a criminal cannot be a suitable teacher. So could a teacher convicted of possessing illegal drugs (Zucker, 1988). But people might well differ over what sorts of crimes merit such punishment. Physical or sexual assault might seem to indicate unsuitability for teaching (though here, too, the particular circumstances might be relevant), but would a conviction for shoplifting also merit dismissal? What about driving offences?  What about offences committed many years before the person as a teacher?

Issues of sexual behaviour are particularly sensitive. One can no longer be dismissed from teaching in Canada on the basis of sexual orientation. On the other hand, Catholic school boards in Canada have dismissed teachers who were divorced or who otherwise violated Catholic religious teaching, and these dismissals have been upheld by the courts.

Also delicate are issues of relationships between teachers and students. The determination of what constitutes an appropriate relationship between a teacher and a student outside the classroom has been determined on a case-by-case basis.  For moral and professional reasons, sexual relationships between teachers and students have been deemed inappropriate.  And yet, a Canadian court upheld the continued employment of a teacher who was living with her former elementary student because they were then no longer in a teacher–student relationship and the student was now past the age of the majority (Hurlbert & Hurlbert, 1992, p. 190).

The conflict between the public’s expectations of teachers and teachers’ right to lead private lives of their own choosing makes it likely that other such cases will end up before the courts.



Provincial teachers’ associations exist in all of Canada’s provinces and territories. In most cases, a single association represents the public school teachers of the province or territory; only New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario have more than one association. (See Table 9.2 for a list of associations

Teacher associations are unions for purposes of labour relations such as collective bargaining, but in addition they perform a wide range of activities related to the well-being of their membership in particular, and to the provision and improvement of public schooling in general . Among the functions of teachers’ associations are: (1) professional-development activities for their membership, in the form of seminars, conferences, and workshops; (2) member welfare supports, such as counselling on personal health issues; (3) legal and professional advice to members on such matters as contractual rights and employee relationships; and (4) lobbying and consultation activities with governments and other educational stakeholders to promote both the interests of their members and the health of the public school system. However collective bargaining on behalf of their membership is generally considered the most important function of teachers’ associations.

Teacher unions were developed in the first part of the twentieth century to improve teachers’ pay and working conditions.  Prior to the development of teacher unions and collective agreements, teachers could be and were fired at the whim of their employers – for example female teachers were sometimes fired for getting married.  Teachers had no say in their own pay; male teachers earned more than female teachers doing the same job until that practice was stopped through collective bargaining.  During the depression of the 1930s, teachers in some places were required to bid for their own jobs each year, getting less and less pay for the same work.  Many of the rights discussed earlier, such as the right to voice one’s opinion or the right to a fair evaluation only exist because teacher unions fought for them.

Despite these important accomplishments, in recent years there has been a concerted attack on teacher unions, claiming that they interfere with effective education and get in the way of removing incompetent teachers.  Many states in the United States do not allow collective bargaining by teachers and the same suggestion has been made in Canada.  These criticisms are part of a general move to reduce the extent and influence of unions in Canadian life.

Like school districts or governments, teacher unions are not perfect organizations.  They face internal conflicts between the conflicting views of members.  For example, a collective agreement may accept less desirable working conditions for younger teachers in order to preserve the benefits of the majority of older members. 

However it is important to remember the vital benefits for teachers that exist because of the work of unions.  Where there are no teacher unions, pay is lower, working conditions are worse, benefits are fewer, and as a result it is harder to attract skilled people into teaching or to keep them there.  In fact, virtually all the strongest education systems in the world have strong teacher unions because when teachers form powerful advocacy groups, they also work for things that benefit students.  Teachers should certainly be seeking ways to make their unions better organizations, but the evidence shows that getting rid of unions would lead to a worse situation for students as well as teachers.  

Most principals and vice-principals in Canada belong to teachers’ organizations. Although they may have their own subgroup within these organizations (e.g., the Manitoba Council of School Leaders), they have traditionally seen themselves primarily as teachers who share common professional interests with their colleagues. However, this relationship is not without its ambiguities, since principals are also expected to be management representatives in their schools.

In Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia principals are prevented by law from being members of teachers’ organizations. In these provinces, school administrators have their own provincial organizations. In Quebec, this organization has been long established, while in British Columbia the split from the teachers’ federation occurred in 1987 as part of the legislation that established the British Columbia College of Teachers (Robinson & Wallin, 1989).  In Ontario principals were removed from the bargaining unit by provincial law in the last 1990s. 
Recently, there has been much more debate around whether administrators should remain “in scope” or “out of scope” of teachers’ organizations.  The arguments to remain in include the fact that most administrators are teachers, are affected by many of the same issues as teachers, and therefore should be entitled to the same protections.  Also, keeping administrators in teacher unions emphasizes their common interests rather than pitting them against each other.  The argument for exclusion revolves around the nature of principals’ role as managers of work and evaluators of teachers, so that when conflicts arise, very often they pit administrators against teachers (for example, dismissal proceedings).  The question then becomes, which “teacher member” does the association protect?

Table 9.2 Provincial Teachers’ Associations in Canada





Yukon Teachers’ Association


Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association



Federation of Nunavut Teachers


British Columbia

B.C. Teachers’ Federation



Alberta Teachers’ Association



Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation



Manitoba Teachers’ Society



Ontario Teachers’ Federation



Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario



Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation



Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association



L'Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens



Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers/Centrale de l'enseignement du Québec


New Brunswick

New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation



New Brunswick Teachers’ Association



L’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants francophone du Nouveau-Brunswick


Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Teachers Union


Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation


Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association




A major function of teachers’ associations has been the negotiation of collective agreements with the employer that outline the conditions of employment for their members. A collective agreement is a legal agreement between a group of workers or employees, who have organized themselves into a union or bargaining unit, and their employer. The bargaining unit must be formally organized according to relevant provincial labour laws. It then elects or otherwise chooses a team or committee to represent its members in negotiating a contract with the employer.

Although collective bargaining by teachers takes place in all the provinces, the procedure assumes various forms and is covered by different legislative provisions. An   account of these provisions is provided in Slinn and Sweetman’s 2012 edited collection Dynamic negotiations: Teacher labour relations in Canadian elementary and secondary education as well as the Canadian Teachers’ Federation publication Where education and legislation meet: Teacher collective bargaining in Canada (Hanson, 2013). All but three provinces have enacted collective bargaining legislation that is specific to teachers. Bargaining in New Brunswick is regulated by general public-sector bargaining legislation; in Alberta and British Columbia, it is regulated by general labour legislation.  Provinces like Manitoba and Ontario utilize a combination of general labour legislation and specific education provisions.

As Table 9.3 shows, collective bargaining also varies across provinces in terms of the level at which bargaining actually occurs. In some cases, all negotiations occur centrally, and agreements affect all teachers in the province; in others, bargaining is a purely local activity between school boards and the local bargaining unit. A third version that has become the most common arrangement sees major cost items (primarily salaries and main benefits) addressed provincially and organizational matters at the local level.

Table 9.3 Collective Bargaining Arrangements





British Columbia

New Brunswick



Prince Edward Island





Nova Scotia

Northwest Territories



Yukon Territory




Salaries and benefits represent a major component of all collective agreements, although by no means the only one.   Procedures for laying off teachers are also included in collective agreements. Teacher layoffs have occurred, particularly in districts with significant declines in enrollment. In such cases, contracts usually provide that laid-off teachers have the first rights to any vacancies that may arise. Collective agreements may have very complicated provisions regarding the basis for layoffs and recalls, particularly concerning the extent to which seniority will apply in determining who will lose jobs, and the procedures to be followed. There may also be some modifications of seniority arrangements to accommodate specialists in particular subjects.

Working conditions provide a third area of concern in collective agreements. A wide range of matters may be specified, including maximum limits on a teacher’s teaching time, maximum class sizes, and minimum amounts of preparation time during the day or week. In some provinces, collective agreements may require teachers to have an uninterrupted lunch hour.  Some collective agreements also contain clauses that spell out teachers’ responsibilities for supervising students on playgrounds or in other settings outside the classroom.

Finally, collective agreements may contain clauses having to do with the union, the employer, and the bargaining process. Most agreements, for example, recognize the particular teachers’ association as the sole bargaining agent for teachers, and require teachers either to belong to the association or to pay fees to it even if they do not belong. Agreements also have provisions for settling disputes that may arise while the agreement is in force. If a member of the bargaining unit feels that the agreement has been violated, the association may file a grievance. The collective agreement lays out the steps that must be followed to resolve the grievance, with the final step usually being binding arbitration by a third party. The arbitration process can be very expensive, however, because of the cost of lawyers for each side, so there is an incentive for both the union and the employers to settle grievances without arbitration.

Collective Bargaining Procedures

Provinces have legislated different processes for collective bargaining between teachers and employers. Collective agreements are negotiated to be valid for a specified period of time (typically one to three years), at the end of which they must be renegotiated. While many items may stay the same from one contract to the next, others are subject to negotiation and change. Teachers’ associations normally try to improve salaries and benefits in each round of bargaining, while school boards and provincial governments try to limit salary increases and maintain control of working condition issues outside the collective agreement, so as to have more freedom to arrange things as they see fit in light of public pressures and interests.

When the two sides in the bargaining process appear unable to come to an agreement in contract talks, collective bargaining legislation usually provides for a number of outside interventions to facilitate an agreement. These may include fact-finding, mediation or conciliation, arbitration, binding arbitration, and final offer selection. The first two of these are voluntary. Fact-finding is a process in which a neutral third party studies each side’s position and issues a report outlining his or her view of the issues involved. This report is for information only. Mediation (sometimes called conciliation) involves having a third party meet with the two sides, either separately or together, to try to help them work out a solution. The parties do not have to listen to the mediator, but sometimes an outside person can cut through the bad feelings and suspicions separating the two sides.

In contrast, arbitration involves a process whereby the two sides select a third person (or persons) to settle the dispute for them. The arbitrator listens to both sides and then makes a decision as to what should be in the contract. Both sides, if they agree to arbitration in the first place, must accept the arbitrator’s decision, no matter what it is. Final offer selection is a form of arbitration in which the arbitrator must pick the position of one side or the other in its entirety. The idea behind final offer selection, which remains a controversial practice, is that each side must put forward as reasonable a package as it can; if it is unreasonable, the arbitrator will select the other side’s proposals entirely.

Collective bargaining can also involve the use of sanctions by either side if a collective agreement expires without a new one being signed. Teachers can engage in what is called work to rule, which means that teachers will withdraw all those services, such as coaching or other extra-curricular activities, that are not required in the collective agreement. Employers are entitled to lock out teachers or other bargaining groups, which simply means that they close the schools and stop paying salaries until the dispute is settled. Finally, employees can withdraw their services (strike) in an attempt to force their employer to come to an acceptable agreement with them. In spelling out the ways in which a contract is to be arrived at, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba have laid out procedures that specifically exclude the right of teachers to strike. In Nova Scotia and Quebec, strikes can only occur at the provincial level of bargaining. In Saskatchewan, bargaining provides two routes—one that involves binding arbitration, and one that involves the possibility of a strike. In the other provinces, strike or work-to-rule action and lockouts are retained as legitimate collective bargaining possibilities.

Even though most provinces do allow teachers to strike as part of the collective bargaining process, strike action by teachers remains a controversial issue that tends to generate fierce discussion within the profession and in the public. For some teachers, strike action and its impact on children’s education remains incompatible with their vision of teaching as a profession committed first and foremost to the well-being of their students. Conversely, others argue that it is precisely because they are committed to the well-being of their students that they must use all options available to them to ensure effective working conditions and salaries that will attract and retain good teachers. In recent years several provincial governments have dealt with teacher strikes by passing legislation forcing teachers back to work and imposing some form of settlement (Hanson, 2013).  Despite the controversy, as long as teachers constitute an employee group whose wages and working conditions are set through collective bargaining, strikes are likely to continue as part of the bargaining process.

Table 9. 4 Canadian Provincial Collective Bargaining Structures


Bargaining Structure

Teachers Bargaining Agent(s)

Employer Bargaining Agent

Principals and Vice-Principals in unit

Work stoppage (strike) model

Dispute Resolution

British Columbia


British Columbia Teachers’ Federation

British Columbia Public School Employers Association


Controlled provincial

Mediation, Fact-finding, Industrial Inquiry Commission



Alberta Teachers Association

School Boards


Controlled local

Mediation, Voluntary arbitration



Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Committee; affiliates

Provincial bargaining committee; school boards



Mediation, Conciliation, Voluntary arbitration, Compulsory arbitration



Manitoba Teachers’ Society; affiliates

School boards



Mediation, Conciliation, Compulsory arbitration



Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario; Ontario Secondary Teachers’ Federation; Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association; l’Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens.

School Boards


Controlled local

Conciliation, Mediation, Inquiry, Voluntary arbitration



Quenec Provincial Association of Teachers; Federation des syndicats des l’enseignement; Local and regional affiliates

Provincial negotiating committee


Controlled provincial

Mediation, Voluntary arbitration

New Brunswick


New Brunswick Teachers’ Association

Board of Management


Controlled provincial

Conciliation, Commissioner, Voluntary arbitration

Nova Scotia


Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union

Province; School boards


Unfettered provincial

Mediation, Conciliation, Voluntary arbitration, Compulsory arbitration (local).

Prince Edward Island


Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation

Education Negotiating Agency



Conciliation, Compulsory arbitration

Newfoundland and Labrador


Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association

School board committees



Conciliation, Voluntary arbitration




The purpose of discussing the professional status of teaching in Canada is not to establish a prescribed list of professional characteristics against which teaching must be ranked or to which it must aspire. Nor is it to make a self-interested case for teachers to be accorded greater status as professionals by society. Public school teaching shares certain characteristics with other professions and differs markedly in other ways. An examination of these similarities and differences can offer insights into the unique characteristics of teaching as an essential and basically moral public service (professional or otherwise), and into the expectations and demands those characteristics make of teachers.

Codes of conduct adopted by teachers’ organizations provide a framework for defining appropriate behaviour for teachers, but as the prologue to this chapter suggested, there may be quite different ways for a teacher to act as a professional. And no matter what steps teachers themselves take, their status is in large measure shaped by others, especially provincial governments, whose actions they cannot control. In defining and pursuing avenues of professionalism, teachers’ organizations, whether they are regarded as professional associations or as unions, provide across Canada a strong and important structure for representing teachers’ interests and for promoting public education in Canada.



1.         Consider the four definitions of a profession given in Table 9.1. Which definition do you prefer? Why? How well does teaching fit your chosen definition?

2.         Review the code of ethics for teachers in your province. Do you see any problems or inconsistencies in the code? If so, what are they and how might they be resolved?

3.         Interview one or two teachers about important ethical conflicts they have faced. (You will need to ensure that these discussions occur in a way that protects the confidentiality of all those involved.) How did the teachers resolve the conflicts they faced? Can you think of other ways they might have acted?

4.         A fellow teacher is using teaching practices you consider inappropriate, even unethical. What might you do? Assuming that you refer the matter to your principal, what if he or she refuses to take any action?

5.         School principals and vice-principals usually strive to develop strong collegial ties with the teachers on their staff. Yet school boards expect them to represent the board’s management interests within their schools. Given these competing pressures, should principals and vice-principals be allowed to be members of provincial teachers’ organizations, or should they have their own autonomous professional organizations?

6.         Discuss the conditions under which it may or may not be appropriate for a teacher to develop a personal friendship with a student. How do these constraints affect the practice of teaching?

7.         Contact your provincial teachers’ association for information on the range of activities and services it sponsors. How many staff are employed by the association? What is its annual budget?

8.         Write a description of the collective bargaining process in your province. Who is involved? What steps occur? What mechanisms exist to resolve disputes?

9.      Obtain a collective agreement for teachers in your province. What are the main provisions in the agreement? Are there any provisions you find surprising?