Teachers Under the Microscope

Increased scrutiny of the teaching profession


Teachers Under the Microscope

Teachers play an important role in the lives of their students. Parents entrust teachers to impart knowledge to their children and to ensure their children’s safety and well-being. While they are aware that they are held to a high standard given the nature of their position, teachers are under ever-increasing scrutiny, even with respect to their personal lives and their off-duty conduct. In the midst of a teacher shortage in this province, particularly in smaller communities, this increasing scrutiny may have some prospective teachers thinking twice about entering the profession.

The most obvious scrutiny on teachers comes from their employers. Over the past several years, workplace investigations have expanded, and an increasing number of school districts are hiring outside investigators to handle investigations. This means that an issue that may have previously resulted in an administrator simply discussing an issue with a teacher turns into a formal, lengthy investigation.

Aside from investigations initiated by their employers, teachers in this province must apply for a teaching certificate. These are issued by the Teacher Regulation Branch (“TRB”), which is a branch of the Ministry of Education. The TRB is not only responsible for issuing teaching certificates, but the Commissioner of the TRB oversees professional conduct of teachers.
While many professions in BC are regulated (lawyers, doctors, dentists and nurses to name a few), almost all discipline imposed on teachers by their employers is reported to the TRB for further scrutiny to determine whether the conduct amounts to professional misconduct. In many circumstances, additional discipline is imposed.

Not only do matters end up before the TRB following discipline by an employer, but any member of the public can file a complaint against a teacher with the TRB. These complaints sometimes have nothing to do with a teacher’s work. For example, a confrontation with a neighbour or strata has led to complaints to the TRB. While matters that do not relate to a teacher’s work are usually eventually dismissed, it takes multiple months, often more than a year, for this to happen.

Any discipline imposed by the TRB, either by way of a consent resolution agreement or a decision by a hearing panel, is posted on the TRB’s website. In recent years, the large majority of discipline outcomes posted has resulted in at least one but usually multiple news outlets running stories naming the teacher and the discipline that has been imposed, even if that matter does not involve students. The same level of media scrutiny is not placed on other professions. While many professions post discipline outcomes regarding their members on their websites, the media highlights some of the more sensational cases, but generally they do not run stories each and every time a new discipline outcome is published. The legal profession is a prime example. While some Law Society disciplinary decisions garner some media interest, the majority do not.

Although the employer and regulatory body proceedings are the most common forum for complaints against teachers, in some circumstances, teachers may face overlapping proceedings all relating to the same incident. These could include investigations and/or discipline by the employer, the TRB, criminal or civil matters, internal union proceedings, or matters before other administrative bodies.

As a result of the increasing demands and expectations that have been placed on teachers, there has been a significant increase in the level of legal services required by teachers to assist them in navigating the variety of proceedings that they face. As the structures for supervising and regulating teachers grow increasingly complex and legalistic, advocates for teachers need to push for reasonable boundaries on the scope of inquiries, and proportionality with respect to the scale of proceedings and the severity
of penalties.