Valuing Dispositions for Effective Teaching

Feyneese Miller headshotAs I witnessed this summer’s commemorative 50th anniversary celebrations of major U.S. civil rights events, I was reminded of my personal experiences from those times—and thought in particular of my high school English teacher, Mrs. Ruby Archie.

My city, Danville (VA), was one of the last in the country to fully desegregate its elementary and secondary schools. Before its desegregation, Danville had one high school for White students and another one for Black students. My first day at the consolidated high school is one that I will never forget. My Black classmates and I were met at the entrance of the school by police officers, belts off and buckles down and at the ready, holding dogs tethered to a leash. As our first day progressed and tension remained high, all Black students were sent to the gym and the doors closed behind us. Mrs. Archie forced her way into the gym and made it clear that none of us would remain in that gym without her, our teacher, present. She cared and was willing to risk her employment to protect us.

Great teachers continue to put the needs and lives of their students first. We saw this with the shooting that occurred in an elementary school in Connecticut where the teachers used their bodies to shield and protect the students; with the tornado that ripped through Oklahoma and the teachers who engaged in extraordinary efforts to protect their children as the school collapsed around them; with the school personnel who talked a lone gunman out of shooting his weapon in her school.

Earlier this month, as Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC hosted “Education Nation,”an elementary-aged boy talked on the show about a teacher who brings food to class so that all her students begin the day with breakfast. This young man believed that his teacher cared about him and he wanted to do his best in her classroom. And he was doing his best.

By most standards, this teacher would be described as effective: Her students are succeeding academically. Key to the teacher’s success is her ability to engage her students, encourage learning, and make each student feel that he or she matters.

While teacher preparation programs certainly cannot claim responsibility for the specific behavior of Mrs. Archie or the other extraordinary educators mentioned above, most professors in our programs do embrace the second standard put forth by the new Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), which reads, “The provider ensures that… candidates develop the knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions necessary to demonstrate positive impact on all P-12 learning and development.” Most programs strive to provide students with many different opportunities to understand and appreciate the importance of a culture of caring in conjunction with a view toward social justice. While Standard 2: Clinical Partnerships and Practice does not articulate in detail what is meant by professional dispositions, I interpret the term to mean that educator candidates, along with having content and pedagogical knowledge, should show that they care about their students, believe in fairness, and know that all students have the ability to learn.

As we continue to refine our standards for educator preparation programs let’s not forget this important factor—a caring teacher who makes students feel that they matter, while at the same time doing all that is necessary to encourage student growth and learning, has what it takes to be an effective teacher.

AACTE Board of Directors Chair Fayneese Miller is dean of the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont.

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Fayneese Miller

Chair, AACTE Board of Directors, and Dean, College of Education and Social Services, University of Vermont