Teaching Character Development to Teachers


(From Dr. Madonna Murphy)
    Schools and districts that want to begin a character education program need to provide for staff development. As noted by Henry Huffman in his book on the development of a character education program in the Mt. Lebanon School district,

    “Most teachers have not received any formal preparation at the undergraduate or graduate level for their role as character educators.”

    In fact according to Edward Wynne and Kevin Ryan, many lack “moral literacy” i.e. a framework regarding concepts of character, values and moral behavior; they lack the psychological principles on how humans develop morally and they have not learned methodologies appropriate for teaching character education.

    A doctoral dissertation by Alice Lancton found that in a sample of 30 middle school and junior high teachers not a single teacher recalled being told in college or in a district in-service about the teachers’ role or responsibility as a moral educator or developer of good character (Wynne & Ryan, 1994).

    Of the twenty-nine schools, college or departments of education visited by John Goodlad and Kenneth Sirotnik in 1989, they found no instances where the moral dimensions of teaching were addressed in the foundations courses required of prospective teachers (Goodlad, et al, 1990).

    A survey of 7% of all the teacher education institutions in the United States by Dara Vernon Wakefield of Baylor University found that although the heads of these teacher education programs supported the notion of moral education methods instruction, more than half of the programs surveyed indicated that these methods are not directly taught to any significant extent in their pre-service teacher education programs. This is true today, even though a survey in 1991 by the American Association of School Administrators indicated that moral education programs were a part of the curriculum in more than 10,000 schools nation-wide (Wakefield, 1996).

    Anyone who has learned about teaching values in schools was probably taught the values clarification philosophy prevalent in the 1970s, which purports that the teacher should use morally neutral methods, or they have learned the moral dilemma discussion method of Kohlberg, which was prevalent in the 1980s. Both methods focus on process, not on moral content.



How is character education included in the courses for Teacher Preparation?

Human growth and development courses should include Piaget’s stages of moral reasoning, Kohlberg, Gilligan, Damon, Rest, and Havighurst.

Theories of learning courses should include how behavior is learned: social learning theory, behaviorism, information processing, cognitive behavior modification, and control theory.

History and philosophy of education courses should include the component of moral education as described by Aristotle, John Dewey, Horace Mann, and State Constitutions.

Courses in behavior management should include how to foster the development of character.

Classroom management courses should include methods of creating a moral community and fostering a moral climate. Students can be encouraged to use the Comprehensive Character Building Classroom Inventory as they study the classroom system.

Methods classes should include character education as curriculum and the use of community service learning (see Handbook).

All pre-service programs should include a course in legal and ethical responsibilities of educators. Students should study the Code of Ethics for Educators, and discuss ethical dilemmas that arise.

Special Educators should understand the philosophy of special education as it relates to human rights and the development of character. Methods of fostering virtue in students with behavior disorders should emphasize character education.

Courses in multi-cultural education and global awareness should include a moral component about tolerance, acceptance of diversity, and respect for other cultures.

There are many contemporary moral issues in schools today: violence, controlled and illegal substances, prejudice, sexism, plagiarism, peer cruelty, vandalism, harassment, and irresponsible sexual behavior, and they have an affect on the classroom. If pre-service teachers are to be prepared for the real world of the classroom, these issues have to be addressed.

Syllabus for a Graduate Course in Character Education

For a faculty or student workshop in Character Education, click here.

For a consultant or mentor, click here.

To look at the Liberal Arts, click here.

For a book on Community-Building in the College Classroom, click here.


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