Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Apples and Fishes: The Debate over Dispositions in Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Apples and Fishes: The Debate over Dispositions in Teacher Education

Article excerpt

In 2000, the adoption of new standards by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) unleashed a feisty debate on the role of dispositions in teacher preparation. With the ratification of the 2000 Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education (NCATE, 2002), NCATE identified the development of professional dispositions as an explicit obligation of teacher educators. (1) NCATE included expectations regarding candidate dispositions, because, as Wise (2006) explained, the organization "believed that the time had come for teacher educators to pay attention not merely to knowledge and skill development and teaching and learning but also to the moral and ethical development of teachers" (p. 5). At the same time, Wise and his colleagues were aware that the profession lacked consensus regarding the moral and ethical dimension of teaching. They anticipated that by including dispositions in the Standards, they were "unleashing a search by all institutions for the moral and ethical foundation of the profession of teaching" (p. 5)--a search that, they hoped, would result in the profession adopting a code of ethics to guide the development and assessment of teacher dispositions.

Given the high-stakes nature of program accreditation and the relatively swift migration of dispositions from the NCATE Standards into state rules and regulations for teacher preparation, we are not surprised by the flurry of activity around the role of dispositions in teaching and teacher education (Freeman, 2007). This activity includes a wide range of endeavors such as debates on definitions of dispositions and the appropriateness of including candidate dispositions in the Standards, the development of both instruments to assess candidates' "dispositional fit" (Wasicsko, 2007) for a career in education and materials to help college students make decisions regarding educational career paths, and research about the impact of teacher dispositions on student learning.

Many issues related to the role of dispositions in teacher education remain unresolved. For example, Frederick Hess (2006) argued that there is not a body of rigorous empirical evidence demonstrating that certain beliefs or dispositions improve teacher effectiveness. In contrast, Taylor and Wasicsko (2000) claimed that "there is a significant body of research indicating that teachers' attitudes, values, and beliefs about students, about teaching, and about themselves, strongly influence the impact they will have on student learning and development." Similarly, whereas the National Network for the Study of Educator Dispositions (NNSED) offers a research-based, pilot-tested instrument with which prospective teachers can self-assess their disposition to teach (http://www.educator, Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, and Ness (2005) wrote that "nowhere in the literature can one find a reliable and valid measure of a candidate's (or anyone's) dispositions" (p. 193).

In our view, the controversies around dispositions are not so much quibbles over apples and oranges, but rather over apples and fishes. Those opposed to including dispositions in the assessment or certification of teacher candidates rarely address the views held by those in favor, and those in favor tend not to address the arguments of detractors. Before we characterize the central features of this apples and fishes debate, we first outline the evolving definitions of dispositions in the NCATE Standards and JTE's role in addressing this hot topic.


In the 2002 and 2006 editions of the Standards, the Glossary of NCATE Terms provides the following definition for dispositions:

   The values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence
   behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities
   and affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as
   the educator's own professional growth. … 
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