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Dispositions in Teacher Education

reviewed by Anita C. Levine - March 24, 2008

coverTitle: Dispositions in Teacher Education
Author(s): Mary E. Diez and James Raths
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1593116314, Pages: 235, Year: 2007
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Warning: I must state my position upfront that the idea of evaluating dispositions in preservice teachers gives me the heebie jeebies. When the book arrived for me to review, just the title alone—Dispositions in Teacher Education—raised the hairs on the back of my neck. How balanced or biased would the editors be? Which sides of the philosophical divide when choosing chapter submissions? And so it was with great trepidation I opened the book and began reading. To my utmost delight, this book truly has something for everyone: “a variety of perspectives that will enrich the discourse about dispositions among teacher educators” (p. 4). Many of the chapters are well grounded philosophically and analytically, while others seem circular in reasoning. Some of the authors’ views leave me snarling in disagreement, while others have me cheerfully concurring. For a dispositions dissident like myself, that’s powerful. The richness of the contrasting perspectives from the nine contributors, when taken as a whole, leads me to highly recommend this book to all teacher educators who are faced with the daunting task of designing and implementing some way of assessing and developing candidate dispositions.

Freeman provides an in-depth analysis of the complexities involved in unpacking the variety of assumptions regarding this highly debated concept. He urges teacher educators to utilize both a theoretical and philosophical lens when developing dispositional frameworks. The theoretical is necessary as the term is too often used “ambiguously and inconsistently” (p. 15), while our philosophical stance shapes our decisions on what we value most in an effective teacher. Along this line, Freeman observes that when teacher educators develop their wish list of dispositions desired in candidates, they are describing attributes they want in the kind of colleagues they prefer to work with. Undoubtedly unintentional, this observation could be seen as lending support to Wasicsko’s controversial recommendation that faculty members be hired based on the same dispositional requirements as used for potential teacher candidates.

Breese and Nawrocki-Chabin employ a social-cognitive approach as the basis for developing teacher candidates’ dispositions and dispositional self-analysis. However, in my view the authors are guilty of what Freeman warns as being too prevalent—ambiguity and inconsistency with defining the term. They do not grapple sufficiently with the theoretical and use “dispositions” as a catch-all for a wide variety of behaviors, intended or otherwise. My concern is that by utilizing such a broad sweep of definitions they are confusing their preservice teachers when training them in self-analysis: “From now on I will try to improve my dispositions by using…to send the message that…” (p. 40). Ironically, Breese and Nawrocki-Chabin suggest that we “create a shared language” in terms of dispositions, particularly when attempting to assist our preservice teachers in understanding the interrelationships between beliefs and behaviors.

Raths, Diez, and Freeman stress the importance of assessing dispositions in a given context at a given time. Diez discusses two types of assessment approaches: naturalist versus interpretivist. The naturalist approach promotes the use of quantitative-based assessment to standardize expectations of both faculty and candidates. Its purpose is to screen out candidates who may not conform to the wish list of preferred dispositions. A prime example is Wasicsko, who advocates using a perceptions-based dispositional scale to determine the existence of requisite dispositions as a component of the admissions process for predictive purposes. He claims that dispositions are “unlikely to change easily and sufficiently” (p. 61) in the short amount of time spent in a teacher preparation program. Therefore, there must be a minimal number of dispositions that a candidate should already possess upon admittance. The weakness in Wasicsko’s argument is that this assessment is totally acontextual.

In contrast, the interpretivist approach argues that assessment must look at individual performance in a given context and, as Diez says, faculty need to use “assessment for learning” and teacher development. Raths presents two arguments: (a) that choosing certain dispositions to assess “implies certain contexts in which the dispositions are to be observed” (p. 159), and (b) that assessment within context requires judgment, even when utilizing rating scales and raters. This focus on judgment is echoed by Oja and Reiman with their integrated learning framework (ILF), a professional developmental model based on constructivist-developmental theory. For them, professional judgment is a disposition, which includes interpretation and problem-solving action within a given context.

Freeman sees context as permitting and shaping “intention and behavior,” not triggering or causing behavior. Hare seems to concur with this. She explores dispositions through the lens of teacher formation, grounded in Parker Palmer’s work on self-knowledge. Central is teacher self-exploration and understanding of one’s Self, “who we are ‘disposed’ to be” (p. 143). Hare presents an intriguing blend of the naturalist and interpretivist approaches. She believes that preservice teachers must “name and claim” their own dispositions as part of developing self-knowledge and that their dispositions can be developed over time. Yet, she also agrees with Wasicsko that admission to a teacher education program should include an initial assessment of candidates’ dispositions to ensure that they already possess the required dispositions. Stooksberry warns that if we do not acknowledge the influence of context on the definition, development, and assessment of dispositions, educators may assume that dispositions can be “generalized across people and situations” (p. 225).

Peterson contributes to the dispositions debate from a unique slant: the perspectives of career changers who graduated from an alternative certification teacher education program with a focus on high needs schools. Some of the career changers’ former professions included banking, newspaper reporting, law, television production, and retail sales. The overwhelming response given by the participants in her study was that “the human connection in the teaching profession” (p. 172) was the most important disposition necessary for being a successful teacher.

Stooksberry concludes the book with a well-reasoned argument for the necessity of all teacher educators across disciplines to engage in a dialogue regarding dispositions in teacher preparation. Her rationale is that the diversity of definitions mirrors the diversity of how teacher educators conceptualize dispositions, with different words often expressing a similar conceptual foundation. Because of this, Stooksberry recommends that faculty take the tough road of wrestling with defining the meaning, role, and influence of dispositions in teacher development and its interplay with program design. She further suggests we in the field of teacher education consider the potential of creating a code of professional ethics based on a consensus on dispositions, as is already being discussed by a task force within the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE; see p. 228).

There is so much more that can be explored in this review, such as Freeman’s distinction between three types of dispositions: metadispositions, a priori dispositions, and dispositions-in-action; and Diez’s discussion of the effects of reductionism, disconnectedness, superficiality, and a culture of compliance on the assessment of dispositions. But space just does not allow.

Whatever it takes to bring us to the table for earnest dialogue about our contrasting visions of what it means to ‘be’ an ideal teacher, the purpose of education, the design of a teacher education program, and our responsibilities as a teacher educator, I’m 100 percent for it. My caution is that assessment and development of what we deem acceptable dispositions not become a way of social control and subtle enforcement of conformity, for either candidate or faculty. Despite these concerns, Dispositions in Teacher Education offers teacher educators a robust and unquestionably stimulating platform for diving headlong into the messy and contentious waters of the dispositions debate. I am amazed at myself for saying I also recommend this book as a classroom reader. Perhaps I might be wooed to the other side after all.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 24, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15160, Date Accessed: 12/2/2021 8:29:16 PM

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About the Author
  • Anita Levine
    Kent State University
    E-mail Author
    ANITA C. LEVINE is a doctoral candidate and adjunct professor in Curriculum and Instruction and Teacher Education at Kent State University, Ohio. Her current research focuses on leadership and teachers as change agents.
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