In 2000, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) made a significant change in their Professional Standards for the Accreditation of Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education. Historically, the standards had focused on assessing the knowledge and skills of teacher candidates. Recognizing that the possession of excellent knowledge of a subject area and the skills to teach that subject does not automatically make a person a good teacher, NCATE added a third component to the standards, something they called "professional dispositions."
Following the description of the standards regarding Knowledge and Skills, NCATE describes this component as follows:
3. Professional Dispositions Candidates are familiar with the professional dispositions delineated in professional, state, and institutional standards. Candidates demonstrate classroom behaviors that are consistent with the ideal of fairness and the belief that all students can learn. Their work with students, families, colleagues and communities reflects these professional dispositions.
While this sounds basic enough on the surface, once schools of education began thinking about how they would assess this standard in prospective teachers, they realized that it was not as easy as it might sound. What, specifically, are dispositions? How does one recognize them in others? NCATE's description suggests that they can be observed in classroom behaviors. What behaviors suggest that a teacher is "fair?" What behaviors insure a belief that all students can learn?
It is relatively easy to "assess" content knowledge and knowledge of instructional strategies with pencil and paper tests. Assessment of skills is more difficult because the application of knowledge (skills) must be assessed based on the observer's interpretation of the candidates' actions. Still, guidelines can be established to observe whether prospective teachers do or don't use appropriate methodology. By the time we get to dispositions, not only does the "standard" become vague, but it fails to define "professional dispositions" in any meaningful way. How does one assess something that is so vague?
While behaviors and perceptions are important, they are merely surface manifestations of deeply ingrained beliefs and attitudes. Without bringing those facets of teacher thinking into consciousness and examining them for validity, any changes in behavior are likely to be cosmetic and short-lived.
Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education explains the importance of self-reflection and makes the process accessible to practicing and prospective teachers. The key to teacher quality is not found by reflecting on what a teacher does. It is found in why the teacher behaves in some ways and not in others.
Teaching in Mind has been adopted as a text or supplement in teacher education classes at a growing number of colleges and universities. Because of this, we have added a full Appendix on Dispositions in the 2nd edition. If you are a teacher educator, we urge you to consider putting Teaching in Mind on your required reading list for both beginning and advanced teacher education classes.
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