Vices and Virtues in the Teaching Profession



By Mark Jakowski, Ph.D. |

Teaching is much more than technical expertise. Vaughn, Bos, & Schumm (2014) rightfully state, “As a classroom teacher, your primary responsibility is to instruct your students.”

However, planning and instruction are only part of your job” (p. 69). Palmer (1998) notes, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (p. 10). An educator’s identity and integrity are exemplified in kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) settings by both commendable qualities or traits (virtues) and moral faults or failings (vices). Identifying virtues and vices specific to educators in K-12 settings can assist those in teacher preparation programs to better prepare teacher candidates to conduct themselves with biblical integrity in both the private and public schools as well as help those in the field be aware of perceived strengths and challenges specific to the teaching profession.

To this end, ways for Christian educators to approach their faith and professional development so as to exemplify virtues and minimize vices specific to teaching in a K-12 setting will be explored. Research was conducted over three academic years regarding perceptions of undergraduate teacher candidates in the Malone University Teacher Education Program relating to virtues and vices that are particular to educators in K-12 settings. Participants were asked to share what they experienced as teacher candidates in their field placements or in their own K-12 experience regarding particular virtues and vices, specific to the teaching profession.

Participants were asked to give commendable qualities (virtues) that they believed were specific to the K-12 setting. They were prompted to give only virtues that they “experienced” through observation in field settings as well as their own experience as students in K-12 settings rather than giving virtues that they thought “should” exist in the profession. Participants were permitted to provide as many virtues as desired. A total of 146 participants were surveyed. An average of three virtues were provided by each participant. Patience was the virtue most frequently mentioned by teacher candidates. It was identified as a virtue by 36% of total participants. The second most frequently mentioned virtues were compassion (14%) and caring (14%). Examples of other virtues mentioned most frequently include understanding, fairness, helpfulness, self-control, dedication, diligence and perseverance.

Terms such as “patience” used by participants to identify virtues in the teaching profession were familiar in a different context. Further investigation revealed that at least 75% of the 446 virtue responses provided by participants were either directly stated as or were descriptors of the “fruits of the spirit” described in Galatians 5:22, 23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. For example, terms directly used by participants such as patience, kindness and self-control are explicitly identified as fruits of the spirit. Other terms used by participants such as diligence and dedication can be viewed as descriptors to the fruit of faithfulness as found in Galatians 5. Terms such as perseverance can be linked to the fruit of love as described in I Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love… always perseveres” (New International Version, 1984).

Participants were also asked to give moral faults (vices) that they believed were specific to the K-12 setting. They were also asked to base their responses on experience rather than idealism. The most frequent response was gossip, which was mentioned by 16% of total participants. Other most frequently mentioned vices were laziness (15%) and impatience (12%). Examples of other vices mentioned most frequently included negative attitude, lack of caring, and being short tempered.

Data were analyzed using characteristics of burnout (Bourg-Carter, 2013). Categories included anger, burnout, fatigue, cynicism, detachment, feelings of apathy and hopelessness, forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention, increased irritability, isolation, lack of productivity and poor performance, pessimism, and other (not burnout). Data analysis indicated that 52% of vices mentioned by participants fell under one of the categories related to burnout. It is likely that many of the vices mentioned by participants are a result of teacher burnout and can be prevented by implementing strategies to cope with stressors that lead to burnout.

Implications of this data may speak to how K-12 educators, mentors in such programs as the Ohio Resident Educators Program, school administrators, and teacher preparers can work to perpetuate virtues and limit vices in the teaching profession. Possible avenues to explore are promoting virtues in mentoring, professional development and teacher education, modeling of virtues in teaching and mentoring, and/or living out who God already says educators are as believers in Jesus Christ.

A psychological approach related to a component of operant conditioning known as Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behavior can be applied. (Kerr & Nelson, 1989). In this technique, a desired behavior such as “on task behavior” is reinforced, which is by nature incompatible with an identified problem such as “distracting other students.” If a student is on task, she cannot distract other students at the same time. So rather than punish a student for the undesired behavior, she is rewarded for the desired behavior that is incompatible (cannot be performed or experienced at the same time) with the undesired behavior. In relation to virtues and vices, virtues that are perceived as incompatible with vices are promoted in the context of mentoring, professional development and teacher education. One cannot be peaceful and bitter or self-controlled and gossip at the same time. In its purest sense, one cannot be kind and selfish at the same time. Yet, if those vices expressed by participants are characteristics of burnout, then the differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior would likely have limited effect.

Within the constructivist theory of education, modeling is of great importance. Demonstration of tasks are modeled so that students are provided a visual of how to perform the task. The saying used by constructivists, “More is caught than taught” comes to mind. It is interesting to note that, despite the best intentions of teacher preparation programs, novice teachers will often rely on experiences of how they were taught as children to inform their current teaching practice (Boyle & Scanlon, 2010). Modeling of virtues by mentors in the field and by faculty in collegiate teacher preparation programs will help promote virtues in beginning teachers. There appears to be biblical support for this approach. Paul told the people of Philippi, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9; New International Version, 2011).

With regard to the virtue of love, Jesus instructed his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34, 35). Modeling is a more effective means to instill virtues in the teaching profession than merely teaching virtues.

Going one step further, the presence of virtues and vices can be used as a barometer of what is happening within the individual. Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (New International Version, 1984).

Please do not misunderstand this concept as, “You do bad things so you are a bad person. Start doing good things so that you can be a good person.” For educators who happen to also be Christian, it is not an issue of becoming a better person, but of allowing God to change them in order to be the person he has already said they are as new creations in Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). It is an issue of the “inner-life.” An inside-out endeavor in contrast to an outside-in endeavor.

Keller (2011) describes how humanity tries to compensate as they contend with their lack of perfection, “Yet we’re all trying to address that sense of uncleanness through external measures…One example is religion itself…The problem is that, as Jesus said, that model doesn’t stick…Though you’re praying and trying your very best to be good, your heart doesn’t change…Religion doesn’t get rid of the self-justification, the self-centeredness, the self- absorption, at all…It’s outside-in” (pp. 76, 77). Lynch, described the limitations of the outside/in approach, “We never resolve sin by working on it. We may externally sublimate behavior, but we’re essentially repositioning the chairs a bit on the deck of a sinking ship” (p. 16). If there is limited success instilling virtues in the teaching profession by trying to be better people or working on sin, an alternate approach is available.

For those of the Christian faith an approach worth considering is to experience the Good News, which in part, takes place at conversion (for some a specific place and time, for others a more gradual process less explicit), when one becomes a qualitatively different being (II Corinthians 5:17). In theological terms Anderson (1990) states, “You inherited physical life from Adam. But if you are a Christian…you are now identified with the last Adam, Jesus Christ…Jesus modeled for us what it means to live 100-percent dependent on God” (pp. 39-40).

This entails being reminded that believers in Jesus Christ cannot be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39) and are identified as God’s children (John 1:12), Christ’s friend (John 15:15), members of Christ’s body (I Corinthians 12:27), free forever from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2), God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), God’s co-workers (II Corinthians 6:1), God’s temple (II Corinthians 3:16), and assured that all will work together for good (Romans 8:28). This is merely a short list of identifiers God has given to believers in Jesus. Anderson (2000) goes on to say, “Being a Christian is not just a matter of getting something; it’s a matter of being someone…It’s not what you do as a Christian that determines who you are; it’s who you are that determines what you do” (pp. 46-47). Christian educators trust God for the courage to live out what he already says is true about them.

One application would be for Christian educators to seek out intentional ways of experiencing the Good News on a daily basis so that they can be the good news to others (Jakowski, 2015). Perhaps exhibiting virtues in the teaching profession is not a matter of working on virtues, but being the person God has already proclaimed Christians to be by experiencing layers of the Good News on a daily basis and thus being the good news to those around them, both students and colleagues. When needs are met through experiencing the Good News, energy can be used, not in self-protection, but in the Christian educator asking, “How can I be the good news to this person in a very practical way, right now, the way you (God) have been the Good News to me? How can I love, be joyful, uncontentious (peaceful), patient, kind, good, loyal (faithful), gentle, and have some measure of verbal filter (self-control) with this person right here, right now, in a very specific God-led way?” And then to follow through with being the good news to that person.

The beginning step is for Christian educators to ask God to show them how they may experience the Good News in very specific ways and on a daily basis, so that they can be the good news to students, colleagues, and families by living out what God has already identified them as being. First experience the Good News in order to be the good news to others.


Anderson, N. (1990). Victory over the darkness (1 st ed.). Ventura: Regal Books.

Anderson, N. (2000). Victory over the darkness (2 nd ed.). Ventura: Regal Books.

Bourg-Carter, S. (2013). The tell-tale signs of burnout: Do you have them? Psychology Today. Retrieved from women/201311/the-tell-tale- signs-burnout- do-you- have-them.

Boyle, T., Scanlon, D. (2010). Methods and strategies for teaching mild disabilities: A case-based approach. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Keller, T. (2008). The reason for God: Belief in an age of skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books.

Kerr, M. & Nelson, C. (1989). Strategies of managing behavior problems in the classroom (2 nd ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson

Jakowski, M. (2015). The Good News. The V.O.I.C.E Journal, 1. Retrieved from

Lynch, J., McNicol, B., & Thrall, B. (2011). The cure. San Clemente; Cross Section.

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