Chapter Nine: Teachers and the Teaching Profession

9.3 Is Teaching a Profession?

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 (Association of Canadian Deans of Education, 2017; Shulman, 1987). One of the most influential of these efforts has been the work of Lee Shulman (1987) whose seven-domain typology is summarized in Box 9.3.1. It would, however, 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 (Darling-Hammond, 2020; Hattie, 2008; Hayes & Doherty, 2017).

Box 9.3.1

Shulman’s Presentation of the Knowledge Base of Teaching

Content Knowledge:

  • Specific subject matter knowledge, understandings, and skills relevant to the school curriculum.

General Pedagogical Knowledge:

  • Broad principles and strategies of teaching and learning, classroom organization and management that apply across specific subject areas.

Curriculum Knowledge:

  • The materials and programs that serve as “tools of the trade” for teachers.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge:

  • That special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers, their own special form of professional understanding.

Knowledge of Learners and their Characteristics:

  • The cognitive, physical, emotional, social, historical, and cultural factors that are associated with students’ needs and interests.

Knowledge of Educational Ends:

  • Ranging from the workings of the group or classroom, the governance and financing of school districts, to the character of communities and cultures.

Knowledge of the Wider Purposes of Education:

  • Knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values, and their philosophical and historical grounds.

Source. Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reforms. Harvard Education Review, 57(1), 8.

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.

For forty years the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) has been conducting regular surveys of public attitudes towards education in the province. In their 2018 publication people were asked to assign a grade to their community school: 75% gave an A, B, or C grade while only 12% assigned a D or Fail grade (Hart & Kempf, 2018). These positive attitudes towards Ontario schools have been quite stable over the forty-year timeframe and compare well with other public institutions.

Further recognition of teaching as an essential service can be found in the legislation related to collective bargaining, discussed later in this chapter. In some provincial legislation, binding arbitration is used as the final dispute resolution mechanism rather than allowing for strikes or lockouts. In provinces where lockouts and strikes have occurred governments have often used an essential public service argument to justify back-to-work legislation if schools remain closed for long (Jones, 2015; Pace, 2017) – although a 2015 Supreme Court ruling (Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, 2015) has imposed constraints on how quickly a government can make such a move.


Until quite recently, across Canada 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 an 18-person Governing Council that, as of 2021, is made up of nine members of the profession appointed by the College, and nine members of the public appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, each appointed for a three-year term. The College is charged with governing the profession in Ontario in the best interests of the public by; setting ethical standards and standards of practice; issuing teaching certificates, which it may suspend or revoke; accrediting teacher education programs and courses; and, investigating and hearing complaints about individual members. It is also mandated to communicate with the public on behalf of the profession (Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996).

In both the British Columbia College and the Ontario College professional roles 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 and The British Columbia Teachers Council, a body much more controlled by the Ministry (Glegg, 2013). In recent years, while the possibility of establishing a College of Teachers has surfaced in other provinces (Manitoba Education, 2020), neither governments nor teacher associations (and certainly not governments and teacher associations) have shown much interest in pursuing this form of self-regulation.


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