Professional Commitments and Dispositions
Union’s conceptual framework articulates professional commitment to knowledge, teaching competence, and student learning. Because of the immediate impact and relevance their work has on the lives of children, teacher educators have often been among the first to respond to new needs brought on by change in educational landscapes. Redefining the role of the teacher educator is a timely consideration.
A pragmatic goal is to present to each teacher educator at Union University an overlay of an inquiry curriculum that can be readily utilized. This inquiry curriculum is designed to engage learners in worldview thinking that will impact American classrooms. James Sire’s critical questions of faith from The Universe Next Door (1997) serve as a pedagogical springboard for the curriculum. Questions like, "What is the basis for your morality?" "How is anything known?" "What happens to you when you die?" "What purpose do human beings serve in this world?" are starters for worldview thinking. The task is to frame these ideas and values into coursework and experiences (such as service-learning) that can be understood and prized by students. The impact must be less missionary in tone and more reciprocal in spirit; i.e., how can teacher education students serve in a way that mutually benefits their communities as well as themselves? Engagement begins with good questions, and good questions are still the best tool any teacher can have in their pedagogical repertoire. An emphasis on inquiry skills is an enhancement included in the curriculum since the previous NCATE visit.
Implementing an Inquiry Curriculum
Knowledge, teaching competence, and student learning are enhanced in an inquiry curriculum. For example, how can a teacher education program equip teachers with a morality informed by an inquiring, civic-minded paradigm which strikes at the heart of their worldviews? As Colby et al. (2003) assert, moral and civic values are inseparable. They describe morality as concerned with prescriptive judgments about how one relates to other people personally, in the world of work and in public domains. Thus, morality is personal as well as public, precisely the domain of the public school teacher. Schooling in America is and has always been concerned with the morality of the democracy, certain democratic goals and principles like tolerance and respect, objectivity, concern for individual rights and group welfare. These are traditional values of American citizenship and they rest upon more basic values identified in the secular realm of Character Counts! as well as the sacred context of the Bible.
One of the most challenging tasks an academic program faces, especially a professional program, is effectively dealing with the dispositional outcomes for students. In teacher education programs like Union's that are nationally accredited by NCATE, they must meet performance standards which require the institution to demonstrate that their students are actually meeting the knowledge, skills, and dispositions specified. The dispositional area is always the most difficult one to validate. However, one way that one can approach this affective realm is by (1) systematically infusing inquiry into the curriculum of preparation of teachers, (2) measuring the value added with an appropriate instrument, and (3) documenting the observation of these dispositions (civic values) in pre-service teachers in the public school classrooms.