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The Moral Work of Teaching and Teacher Education: Preparing and Supporting Practitioners

reviewed by Jeffery D. Nokes - February 07, 2014

coverTitle: The Moral Work of Teaching and Teacher Education: Preparing and Supporting Practitioners
Author(s): Matthew N. Sanger & Richard D. Osguthorpe
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754307, Pages: 224, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

Imagine this scenario that played out about 10 years ago in my 10th grade world history classroom. I stood at the doorway at the end of class collecting the assignments that had been completed that day. As Bryant exited he handed me his paper. I glanced at it and immediately noticed something suspicious—then I recognized my handwriting. It was the “answer key” that I created earlier in the day and had kept on my desk. Bryant apparently found it without a name on it, applied his name, and was attempting to hand it in as his work.

“Bryant, will you please stick around for a minute? I need to talk to you,” I said.

He halted and pushed back against the flow of students exiting and waited at my side. As the classroom emptied, the history curriculum that was the focus of my instruction a few minutes earlier was replaced by the “hidden curriculum” of moral education. I faced a dilemma that involved two issues, though I didn’t recognize either at the time. First, how should I respond to Bryant in a moral way? How could I be fair to him? How could I preserve or even improve our relationship given his use of poor judgment? Second, how could I nurture in Bryant moral behavior by helping him appreciate the need for honesty and trust in social interactions?

Teachers face situations that call for moral action on a daily basis: helping children resolve a dispute on the playground, teaching middle schoolers to interact respectfully during the discussion of a controversial topic, confronting someone who is bullying another, answering a lonely child’s inconvenient call for attention. How can teacher preparation programs prepare new teachers to address this hidden curriculum? In The Moral Work of Teaching and Teacher Education, editors Matthew N. Sanger and Richard D. Osguthorpe have collected chapters that consider this question.

In Part I the authors introduce the need to prepare teachers to teach morally and to teach morality, suggesting that moral decisions infuse everything teachers do. The authors contend that the origin of public schools in America is rooted in concerns for moral matters, and that, despite the current emphasis on college and career readiness and academic outcomes, teaching remains fundamentally and unavoidably a moral endeavor. They acknowledge that prospective teachers are often drawn to the profession for moral reasons, but when they exit preparation programs and enter classrooms, they are less prepared for the moral work of teaching than for other aspects of their work. Their conclusion is that teacher preparation programs are not doing enough to address this concern.

In Part II, chapter authors discuss the preparation of teachers to address the first issue, teaching morally—both exhibiting the characteristics of a moral individual, and possessing the ethical foundation that produces defensible choices and principled decisions based on more than personal feelings or even moral intuition. Chapter authors disagree about the best approach for providing such instruction, some suggesting that the moral work of teaching becomes a topic that is integrated across all coursework, and others recommending that a single course be dedicated to ethical systems and moral teaching. The editors do not proscribe a specific system for preparing teachers. Instead they provide a variety of models from exemplary teacher education programs that give contrasting ideas of how a program might be structured. This book is a valuable resource for teacher preparation programs that seek practical methods of integrating morality into their curriculum.

In Part III, the chapter authors address the second issue: teaching morality. What can be done to prepare prospective teachers to nurture moral behavior in their students? Authors suggest that “best teaching practices”—that is research-based instruction that includes collaboration, builds a sense of belonging in students, has high academic standards, and includes opportunities for service—are essential for building moral character. However, they also contend that best practices are not sufficient. In addition, they advocate for direct instruction of ethical skills and dispositions through a “novice to expert” approach. The inclusion of practical ideas, readings, and assignments for doing so is one of the strengths of this book.

In the concluding chapter, Richardson explains that some chapters deal with the philosophy and others with the psychology of moral education. Whereas I had originally viewed this internal inconsistency as a weakness of the text, she highlights it as a strength. Philosophical chapters deal with systems of ethics, equity, and humanism. Psychological chapters describe instructional strategies, best practices, student motivation, and learning theories. Richardson suggests, and I concur after reflection, that this two-pronged consideration of the moral work of teaching paints a more complete picture of the need for strong teacher preparation programs.

One of the principles of moral education that several authors explore is the belief that all young people are capable of learning. This claim led me to wonder about the apparent hypocrisy of a teacher education program that “cannot take teachers who are not predisposed to be just and wise teachers and make them so…” on one hand, and, on the other hand, expect prospective teachers to “confront their assumptions about students’ potential for academic and personal success” (Fallona & Canniff, 2013, pp. 78, 84). If every student is capable of learning, isn’t every potential teacher capable of developing a just and wise disposition, given the appropriate instruction? This is a philosophical question ignored by chapter authors that I wish the editors would explore.

An additional weakness of the book, which does not go unnoticed by the chapter authors and editors, is the dearth of classroom research that shows how graduates of exemplary programs engage in the moral work of teaching, and the impact of their instruction on their pupils’ development of moral character. This limitation highlights the potential for future research on effective ways to prepare teachers.

Without experiencing a teacher preparation program that focused on the moral work of teaching, it took me years to develop techniques for teaching morally and teaching morality, but things turned out well in my interaction with Bryant.

“You sure have good handwriting,” I teased, looking at my key with his name.

“Thanks,” Bryant shrugged.

“Is there anything you want to tell me about this activity, today?”

“It was a good activity.”

“Are you sure there isn’t anything else you want to tell me about your work?”

“It was a good assignment. I learned a lot.”

“Bryant. If you want me to be able to trust you again during this school year, there is something else you need to tell me about this assignment.”

After a short pause, the words explode from Bryant’s mouth. “I didn’t do it. I just found it on the floor and put my name on it.”

“I know,” I said, shaking my head but smiling. “It’s my key that I wrote this morning. You know I can’t give you credit for it.”

“I know,” he conceded.

“But, at least I know that I can trust you. Thanks for being honest. Now don’t be late to 6th period.”


Fallona, C., & Canniff, J. (2013). Nurturing a moral stance in teacher education. In M. N. Sanger & R. D. Osguthorpe (Eds.), The moral work of teaching and teacher education: Preparing and supporting practitioners (pp. 75-91). New York: Teachers College Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 07, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17407, Date Accessed: 11/27/2021 5:54:36 PM

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About the Author
  • Jeffery Nokes
    Brigham Young University
    E-mail Author
    JEFFERY D. NOKES is an assistant professor in the History Department at Brigham Young University where his primary assignment is the preparation of secondary history and social studies teachers. He recently published the book Building Students' Historical Literacies: Learning to Read and Reason with Historical Texts and Evidence. He is currently researching methods for improving the historical thinking of upper elementary and middle school students.
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