Do you know how to exercise? Do you exercise? Your answer might be "yes" to the first and "no" to the second. The first question asks about ability: Do you know the ways to exercise so as to do you some good? The second question goes beyond ability and asks about inclination: Are you disposed to exercise? Do you exercise regularly?
Professional dispositions are the principles or standards that underpin a teacher’s success in the classroom. They are the values, commitments, and professional ethics that govern how a teacher acts with students, families, colleagues, and communities.
From research and experience, certain dispositions have emerged that nearly all good teachers have in common. These have to do with values such as professional commitment, communication skills, adaptability, caring, and integrity. These professional standards guide our development of new teachers.
In order to provide the highest quality teacher force possible, Washington State University ’s College of Education has the responsibility of evaluating teacher effectiveness along a variety of dimensions. It uses many instruments and methods to assess the effectiveness of prospective teachers, to make certain they have the knowledge, skills and professional habits necessary to serve in the highly dynamic and complex classrooms of the 21st century.
Good teachers come from widely different backgrounds, and have varied opinions, interests, and personalities. But some qualities, such as the ability to communicate clearly, are common to nearly all good teachers. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine a teacher being a success without possessing these qualities.
Likewise, students in Washington’s P-12 classrooms come from varied backgrounds. They have a wide range of abilities, different levels of prior knowledge, and vary in how they feel about learning and school. These young people grow and develop, sometimes slowly, sometimes with astonishing quickness. Each classroom, therefore, is a mix of dozens of competing interests, stages of development, and strategies for learning.
Even within a single student’s attempt to learn, a teacher may have to try several approaches before finding one that succeeds. A student may believe that she is “no good at math (or science or history or reading),” for reasons having nothing to do with her abilities.
With as many as a hundred different students and several different subjects to teach every day, teachers have an almost impossible mission. Yet we expect nothing less of them than success with every student.
In order to be successful—to leave, truly, no child behind—teachers must purposefully act in caring, fair, professional, respectful, and responsible ways.
Professional dispositions of good teachers
- Good teachers are active, respectful participants in discussions.
- Good teachers express themselves clearly and effectively.
- Good teachers listen thoughtfully and responsively.
- Good teachers engage in lifelong learning, aided by reflection and assessment of new information and ideas.
- Good teachers interact effectively, respectfully, and empathetically across a wide range of situations and people.
- Good teachers work to ensure system-wide high quality learning opportunities and experiences for all students.
- Good teachers seek understanding of complex issues in order to solve problems both independently and collaboratively.
- Good teachers are committed to mastering best practices informed by sound theory.
- Good teachers are responsible colleagues.
How is it possible to tell whether a person possesses these professional dispositions? By careful observation of their behaviors and actions. Is the teacher candidate a thoughtful, active listener? Does he or she participate in discussions, and is that participation respectful? Does the teacher candidate give help readily?
Excellence is a long, laborious process. It is not always easy to foretell which teachers will excel in their careers. But patterns of action that show up in the course of teacher preparation can be presumed also to show up later on the job. A person demonstrating promptness, courtesy, and scrupulous attention to detail in teacher preparation will likely act likewise when employed. A person habitually late, or rude, or careless in pre-service work will, in contrast, be likely to have trouble in a teaching position.
These are judgments about professional potential, not about persons or their opinions or beliefs. Institutions certifying teachers owe the state’s citizens their best judgment and keenest observations when making decisions that will have such profound future effects. The identification and evaluation of professional dispositions is a valuable tool for identifying and capturing important information about prospective teachers, to make sure that they are best prepared for their professional lives.
The issue of dispositions has been widely discussed. The President of NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) has responded to claims in the press. Read the letter by NCATE President Arthur E. Wise.
See how our Professional Disposition Assessment (PDA) Form compares with state, national, and accreditation standards.
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