ASSESSING TEACHER CANDIDATE DISPOSITIONS
Previous research has demonstrated that dispositions of teachers affect how teachers teach (Knowles, 1992; 1994; Knowles & Holt-Reynolds, 1994; Redman, 2006). Therefore, whether preparation programs are seeking accreditation or not, it is necessary to know how well candidates are developing professional dispositions to teach. The purpose of this study was to design a valid and reliable inventory to examine the development of candidate dispositions as they progress through the preparation program. The study was conducted with candidates taking beginning courses and candidates ending their student teaching experience (N=240). Data analyses demonstrated that ending candidates scored significantly better (p<.01) than beginning candidates. Item analysis of the inventory questions showed an internal consistency of .90. The data provided strong evidence that the inventory is reliable and valid, and that the faculty are preparing candidates consistent with the values and beliefs expected of the teaching profession.
ASSESSING TEACHER CANDIDATE DISPOSITIONS
The Disposition of Dispositions
“Not by years but by disposition is wisdom acquired” (Plautus. c. 254–184 B.C.).
After the reframed National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards appeared in 2001, few educators understood or believed dispositions could be or should be evaluated. Despite the fact that research on teaching began examining teacher thought rather than teacher behavior as early as the mid 1980s, and the Council of Chief State School Officers using the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) standards embedded dispositions into state licensing standards in the early 1990’s (Wenzlaff, 1998) many faculty across the nation remained confused by the intent of the new NCATE disposition standard and some programs failed to meet the standard in meaningful ways. Moreover, during 2005 the popular academic press published criticisms of NCATE for requiring institutions to examine attitudes and beliefs of teacher candidates. While there have been many criticisms on the assessment of candidate dispositions, it does not appear that the dispositional standards were developed devoid of research support. Knowles (1992; 1994), Knowles and Holt- Reynolds (1994), and Clark (1992) reported that dispositions of teachers were important reflections of how teachers teach. In addition, the professional community wrote several articles in the 1990s encouraging the promotion of professional dispositions.
Although teaching teacher candidates the skills associated with effective instruction is a focus of teacher education programs, cultivating and developing teacher candidates’ beliefs and attitudes that will serve to inform professional practice and decision-making throughout their careers are also priority outcomes (Renzaglia, Hutchins, & Lee, 1997, p. 361).
Consequently, for the past fifteen years, the educational literature has supported the need for faculty in colleges of education to focus not only on teaching knowledge and skills, but also to examine the belief systems or dispositions of teacher education candidates (McNeight, 2004; Richardson, 2003; Schulte, Edick, Edwards, & Mackiel, 2009; Stooksberry, Schyssler, & Bercaw, 2009; Wenzlaff, 1998). Because past experiences and cultural background (Dee & Henkin, 2002) are inextricably linked to dispositions and known to affect how teachers teach, it is important to examine dispositions systematically as candidates move through teacher preparation programs. The intent of the NCATE standard in support of this research was to provide teacher candidates with a mechanism “to recognize when their own dispositions need to be adjusted” (NCATE, 2002, p.16). The explanation of dispositions in the 2002 Professional Standards states,
Candidates for all professional education roles develop and model dispositions that are expected of educators. The unit articulates candidate dispositions as part of its conceptual framework(s). The unit systematically assesses the development of appropriate professional dispositions by candidates. Dispositions are not usually assessed directly; instead, they are assessed along with other performances in candidates’ work with students, families, and communities (p.19).
The terms dispositions, attitudes, and beliefs are often used synonymously. Richardson (2003) defines dispositions as "psychologically held underpinnings, premises, or propositions about the world that are felt to be true" (p. 2). NCATE defines dispositions as:
The values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities and affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as the educator’s own professional growth. Dispositions are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice. For example, they might include a belief that all students can learn, a vision of high and challenging standards, or a commitment to the safe and supportive learning environment (2002, p. 53).
Because of the most recent public criticisms of dispositions, “social justice” has been removed from the definition. Notwithstanding, teacher candidates enter teacher preparation programs with strong beliefs that are often difficult to affect. These beliefs and attitudes are frequently based upon the candidate’s own personal experiences within and outside the education system. The degree to which teacher candidates process, acquire, and apply knowledge gained throughout their preparation is strongly influenced by these preexisting belief systems (Richardson, 2003). Understanding candidate dispositions can assist faculty in facilitating candidates’ critical thinking about the knowledge and skills they are being exposed to. The inquiry of dispositions can provide faculty with valuable information as they observe candidates trying to make sense out of what they are learning.
Because instruction is guided by personal beliefs and attitudes and because existing belief systems are difficult to affect, it is important that teacher educators inform themselves about the dispositions of teacher candidates at the beginning and at the end of preparation programs. Wenzlaff (1998) and Shriki & Lavy (2005) indicated that when candidates move into the student teaching experience, their preexisting belief systems prevail. Beliefs should change or at least undergo introspection throughout an academic program as new information and experiences are formed (Richardson, 2003). Therefore, it is imperative that preparation programs, whether seeking accreditation or not, should know candidates’ dispositions and attempt to provide what Griffin (2003) and Hamlin (2004) call “critical incidents [that] provide preservice teachers a venue for deeper and more profound levels of reflection,” in turn fostering meaningful candidate growth and learning (Posner, 2000). Before a program can prompt critical incidents, a baseline understanding of candidate dispositions should be determined. Those early dispositions can be influenced by critical incidents strategically and systematically promoted during preparation.