Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Dispositions as Virtues: The Complexity of the Construct

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Dispositions as Virtues: The Complexity of the Construct

Article excerpt

"I am pleased that you have learned to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing. Has my sister a pleasant mode of instruction?"

Henry Hinley to Catherine Morland. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (chapter XXII)

Contemporary planning dogmas on preparing teachers for their work demand both the establishment of goals and objectives and the ways in which they are to be assessed. A temptation for teacher education institutions, faced with the pressing needs of assessing dispositions under National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE, 2005) standards, would be to fall into one or other version of personality testing as adequate enough for assessing dispositions. This would be a mistake, as it would fail to respect the complexity of assessment constructs that should embody those dispositions appropriate to teaching.

The problem is acute. First, to devise instruments for such diagnosis and assessment, there must be constructs that identify desirable dispositions and respect the complexity of each disposition in pedagogical contexts. This demands an intensive and highly detailed discussion about dispositions as norms implicit in good practice. Second, regardless of whether there is consensus on such disposition descriptions, those scenarios or assessment tools that are then researched, developed, and tested for effectiveness will only be as coherent as the identification of those norms. Finally, if a teacher's professional autonomy is to be valued and enhanced, such effective assessment tools must include the candidate's profound understanding of the standards being sought alongside a self-awareness strong enough to handle the process and the outcomes of such assessment. Assessment constructs must be fully transparent if they are to be educational. Given the varied approaches to dispositions for teaching, the task is considerable.

The main thrust of this article is to illuminate the value of conceptualizing the desirable dispositions of the teacher as virtues and in so doing to point a direction for teacher education practice. It is thus an implicit argument for the use of virtue theory in teacher education, though it does not argue the case as such. In Part 1, I seek to clear the decks by characterizing personality traits as relevant to any description of human behavior, action, temperament, or disposition. But dispositions are not so broadly conceived. Rather, dispositions are the property of the agent, manifest only in intentional action, and they function as predictions about human actions but are not the causes of them. In Part 2, I suggest that virtues are refinements of the concept of dispositions: For while remaining dispositions, virtues attained are the result of an individual's initiative, formed against obstacles and intrinsically motivated. Here, I address complexity at two levels, first by insisting on a distinction between professional dispositions and educational purposes, a confusion I find in the use of "social justice." I then describe three categories of virtues as critical in teaching--virtues of character, intellect, and care--from which I point out the complexity with three examples drawn from each category, namely self-knowledge, truthfulness, and compassion. With assessment in mind, the problem then becomes how to handle this complexity, bearing in mind my stricture that assessment scenarios and tools will only be as good as the sophistication of the construct being assessed. In Part 3, I suggest that the complexity can be approached by setting out questions on each disposition-as-virtue, questions that will enable teacher-educators to focus on what they are assessing. However, with transparent assessment, individual students need to create their own virtue protocols for each disposition on the basis of these questions, both as a way to interpret their classroom practice and to build their own virtuous practice. …

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