On the Reasons We Want Teachers of Good Disposition and Moral Character

From Section:
Theories & Approaches
Sep. 15, 2008

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 59, Number 4, September/October 2008 288-299

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

If there is a truism in education, it is that good teaching requires a teacher to be knowledgeable in content, skilled in method, and virtuous in disposition and character. Presumably, we want teachers to be virtuous for reasons that extend beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic—we want them to be of virtuous disposition because they inescapably influence the moral development of the children in their charge. In other words, a purported reason for wanting teachers of good disposition and moral character in the classroom is that teachers act as moral exemplars and models, which in turn is believed to have a direct effect on the moral development of student.

Thus, the purpose of this article is to put forward a more robust rationale for wanting teachers of good disposition and moral character. This rationale is derived from a consideration of three provocative questions that bring important issues to bear on the dispositions debate:
(a) Why do we want teachers of good disposition and moral character?
(b) How morally good does a teacher need to be?

This article is primarily concerned with the “practical conclusions” of attending to dispositions in teacher preparation.
The primary data source for this article is the scholarly literature that assumes a connection between the moral dispositions of a teacher and the moral development of a student. The primary These assumptions are incredibly common in the moral education and moral development literature, ranging from philosophical claims (see Campbell, 2003; Fenstermacher, 1990, 2001; Hansen, 1993, 2001; Noddings, 1984, 2002; Sockett, 1993; Strike & Soltis, 1992; Tom, 1984) to more practice-based or “programmatic” claims (see Benninga, 1993; Lickona, 1991; Ryan & Bohlin, 1999).

In other words, we want teachers of good disposition and moral character not because we want them to teach fairness, respect, magnificence, honesty, compassion, and so on, but because we want them to teach fairly, respectfully, magnificently, honestly, and compassionately.


Campbell, E. (2003). The ethical teacher. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Fenstermacher, G. D. (1990). Some moral considerations on teaching as a profession. In J. I. Goodlad, R. Soder, & K. Sirotnik (Eds.). The moral dimensions of teaching (pp. 130-151). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fenstermacher, G. D. (2001). On the concept of manner and its visibility in teaching practice. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 33, 639-653.

Fenstermacher, G. D. (2002, April 15). Pedagogy in three dimensions: Methods, style and manner in classroom teaching. Paper presented at Columbia University.

Hansen, D. T. (1993). From role to person: The moral layeredness of classroom teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 30, 651-674.

Hansen, D. T. (2001). Exploring the moral heart of teaching: Towards a teacher’s creed. New York: Teachers College Press.

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Noddings, N. (2002). Educating moral people. A caring alternative to character education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sockett, H. (1993). The moral base for teacher professionalism. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sockett, H. (2006). Character, rules, and relations. In H. Sockett (Ed.), Teacher dispositions: Building a teacher education framework of moral standards (pp. 9-25). New York: AACTE Publications.

Strike, K. A., & Soltis, J. (1992). The ethics of teaching (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Tom, A. R. (1984). Teaching as a moral craft. New York: Longman.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Moral character | Moral education | Morality | Professional identity | Teacher education