Our Teachers Want To Be the Best: On the Necessity of Intra-Professional Reflection about Moral Ideals of Teaching

Apr. 20, 2010

Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 16, No. 2, (April 2010), 207–218.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Teaching is a significant social good and therefore teachers as well as the state have to take responsibility for guarding the moral quality of the teaching practice. Based on this premise, the article describes and defends the view that these parties have their own particular role by means of literature review and theoretical and practical arguments.

The authors’ first claim is that the role of the state is necessarily limited to articulating the minimal moral rules and obligations. The state and its government have the right and duty to lay down standards of teaching in the law in order to ensure that every child receives appropriate education to which they are entitled according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, these standards are confined to the minimal moral rules and obligations. The state also has practical reasons for such a confined position, among which are the complexities of professional practice and its implied tacit knowledge.

The authors’ second claim is that teachers have to take responsibility for defining the optimal dimension of their professional morality. This dimension comprises the virtues deemed important for teachers as well as their professional ideals. Whereas the literature on professional ethics of teachers is relatively silent about professional ideals, several arguments are provided for the importance of ideals for teachers.

The final part of the article defends the claim that teachers have to articulate their professional ideals through intra-professional dialogue. Again, theoretical and practical arguments are provided, for instance that such a debate provokes teachers to think about the best aims and means of their profession and that it contributes to the sense and meaning of their work.

Practical implications

To examine whether the authors’ suggestions are practically feasible, the authors will concisely look at the ways in which teachers can instigate a professional dialogue.

Firstly, it may be suggested that the discussion about ideals is held among colleagues within schools as well as within professional organisations.

In addition to belonging to a group of teachers in a school, teachers are also part of the professional community of teachers. These collectives are organised at a (inter)national level and therefore offer teachers the opportunity to cross the boundary of their school and discuss their ideals with colleagues who work in different professional environments.
Secondly, a discussion about ideal aims of teaching by teachers also includes ideals with regard to society, for teaching also serves the good of society. This asks for a wider circle of participants in the discussion, such as organizations within the civil society and the government, because it would stretch the limits of professional responsibility if teachers alone would define the ideal aims related to the characteristics of (citizens of) an excellent society or the ideals regarding the goods of pupils.

Finally, it is obvious that the authors’ proposal is time consuming and it could therefore be looked upon as unfeasible, because teachers are already under (time) pressure in having to meet the demands of the government, schools inspectorate, school board and principals.


In their suggestion of an articulation of the teacher’s professional ethics, the authors stressed the role of moral aspirations over and above deontic duties and obligations. The authors argued that ideals as aims are an important part of the aspirational sphere of professional moral practice of teachers and stressed the necessity of intercollegiate reflection upon ideals by professional teachers. In the authors’ view, this will make teachers good teachers and it is a welcome antidote against the current dominance of externally formulated concrete and observable competences. Moreover, it means that the teaching profession takes responsibility back to where it belongs and confirms their professional autonomy.

Updated: Oct. 12, 2010