cation (NCATE), and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to discuss current conceptions of teacher quality. INTASC is a consortium of state education agencies promoting standards-based reform through the development of licensing standards for beginning teachers. INTASC provides a vehicle for states to work together on licensing standards and assessments for beginning teachers. NCATE has been strengthening standards for teacher education programs, recently incorporating the performance standards developed by INTASC in the development of standards for accreditation of teacher education programs. NBPTS has developed standards for advanced certification, describing what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do. NBPTS has established a national voluntary system to assess and certify teachers to meet its standards. These various standards represent contemporary views of teacher quality and are relied on, in part, for the discussion below of what teachers need to know and do to promote student learning.


Teaching is, first and foremost, a cultural activity, and notions of teacher quality have changed over time as American society has shifted its values and concerns. Moreover, at any given time, different individuals and groups can hold very different ideas about teacher quality. A review of past definitions of teacher quality can provide a context for understanding contemporary definitions.

Teachers Should Personify Virtue

One popular criterion for teacher quality is high moral character. Teachers are often expected to be good role models for students and to represent the highest standards of social propriety. This view of teacher quality was especially widespread in the early 1900s. At that time, teachers were often placed on pedestals, so to speak, as were ministers. When a teacher entered a room, people stopped talking and became self-conscious and embarrassed. To illustrate the importance of moral character in teaching, Willard Waller, writing in 1932, provided this interesting contract that teachers in one community were expected to sign:

  • I promise to take a vital interest in all phases of Sunday-school work, donating of my time, service, and money without stint for the uplift and benefit of the community.

  • I promise to abstain from all dancing, immodest dressing and any other conduct unbecoming a teacher and a lady.

  • I promise not to go out with any young men except insofar as it may be necessary to stimulate Sunday-school work.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement