Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Moral Dispositions in Teacher Education: Making Them Matter

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Moral Dispositions in Teacher Education: Making Them Matter

Article excerpt

Teacher education programs continue to face the challenge of meeting uniform and very specific national and state standards that are established by external accreditation bodies, not by teacher preparation programs themselves (see Darling-Hammond, 2001, for a review of standard setting in teaching). But many teacher educators seek to establish goals that are driven by locally-shaped values, beliefs, and priorities and that focus on candidates' capacities to be good teachers in a broader sense. This includes how a teacher candidate is developing capacities to be responsive to students in multiple ways in a variety of contexts. Such capacities can be associated with the moral dispositions of teachers, which I discuss later. Establishing high standards for the moral dispositions of prospective teachers is an important mandate for teacher preparation programs, although standardizing their assessment is not possible.

In this article, I first describe the tensions that exist between meeting prescribed standards and maintaining a focus on dispositional qualities of teachers. Then I discuss why it is vital to address these tensions, even if they cannot be fully resolved. My emphasis is upon responsiveness to students, which I suggest is an aspect of the moral dimensions of teaching. Finally, I propose potential ways of maintaining a focus on aspects of the moral dimensions of teaching in practical and visible ways.

Existing Tensions

The standards movement has strong ties to the social efficiency model, which, with its emphasis on causal relationships between teaching and learning, according to Beyer (2002), positions teacher preparation "as something like a science--to be generated by an adherence to content and developmental standards and evaluation practices that guarantee results ..." (p.240). And yet, the goal to achieve learning outcomes in schools, a goal that traditionally has been associated with quantitative research studies, remains an elusive one. Contextual factors, including the circumstances of particular communities and the needs of students, require locally situated decision-making, interpretation, and innovative teaching responses that resist standardization.

Shaffer and Serlin (2004), in their discussion about the qualitative-quantitative research "paradigm wars" (and who provide an interesting model for possible rapprochement between the two research traditions), assert that "No technique--not even randomized controlled trials--provides a universal prescription for truth" (p.23). Similarly, although standards may provide useful benchmarks for teacher assessment, used alone, they may not provide a full-bodied vision for assessing candidates that must include individual developmental considerations as well as contextual knowledge of the school settings in which candidates are learning how to teach.

Serious concerns about the pressures of standardization in teacher preparation are not new. These concerns have been felt by many teacher educators and have been described convincingly in the literature (e.g., Beyer, 2002; Bullough, Clark, & Patterson, 2003; Cochran-Smith, 2000, 2004). The drive to standardize teacher education is one that is related, politics aside, to the desire to produce high-quality teachers across teacher education programs. Standards are not inherently bad. But the notion that teacher candidates will necessarily become good teachers by meeting the technical competencies that standards emphasize is questionable. This is the reason why. The term "highly qualified" is being used by policymakers in ways that are associated with program completion and satisfactory performance on certification tests (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). This characterization of high quality is limited and even distracting, because it draws attention away from normative aspects of teaching that cannot be quantified.

The dispositions of teachers, which can be related to the moral dimensions of teaching but are not explicitly attached to technique and content knowledge, may not be assessed in compelling ways by national and state standards alone. …

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