Education books

20th November 1998 at 00:00
Five recent books contribute to the great debate on the future of teaching - the best of them saved till last. First, Teacher Morale, Job Satisfaction and Motivation by Linda Evans (Paul Chapman #163;13.99). As Linda Evans points out, we very seldom define these terms. Her argument, based on research in three primary schools where she knew some or all of the teachers, is that all three of these are functions, not of the general teaching climate, but of the way individual school leaders deal with individual teachers in specific contexts.

Her solution is better school management, achieved in part by admitting "extended professionals" (by implication, only extended professionals) to school decision-making. This might be music to Mr Blunkett's ears, but it would raise eyebrows in most school staffrooms. In any case, the thrust of the argument is weakened by the fact that the research in question was carried out between 1988 and 1992. There is no mention, for instance, of the Office for Standards in Education.

By 1995-1997, when the research involved in Testing Teachers: the effect of school inspections on primary teachers (Falmer #163;13.95) was carried out, OFSTED was a towering feature of the educational landscape. Bob Jeffrey and Peter Woods studied inspections in six very different primary schools, questioning 79 teachers about their experiences. Their answers make depressing and sometimes painful reading. For most of them inspection was traumatic, not only on the personal level but often on the professional level too. The consequence was too often a conspiracy to achieve a good report at whatever cost. Though it is possible that some of the teachers quoted here needed to be shaken out of that complacency that they called intuition, it cannot be possible that they deserved to suffer as they did. Unless of course, like Mr Woodhead and Voltaire, you believe that killing an admiral now and then does wonders for the others.

So is the answer peer review? On the evidence of Teachers Evaluating Teachers by Myron Liebermann (Transaction #163;26.95), most certainly not. Liebermann is describing a specifically American usage of that term: in some states the two big teacher unions have negotiated peer review as the mechanism for dealing with competence procedures. He has little difficulty in demonstrating that it neither "deals with" such cases nor improves test scores. But is there a connection between competence and test scores? It may become important that we know.

And will the Government's Green Paper vision of modern teaching involve, in fact, any reference at all to all the other teachers in our ever-shrinking world? Probably not, but there are plenty of reasons why it should be cited in International Education: Principles and Practice (edited by Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson, Kogan Page #163;35). Look out particularly for Colin Jenkins on why global issues need to be part of the curriculum and for George Walker's brilliant study in children's and adult literature of "mobility" and its effects on children.

Finally, and unusually, a book you simply have to read. Thinking About Teaching , edited by Tony Cotton (Hodder and Stoughton #163;10.99), has no research pretensions, no jargon, no lists, no tables. Six adults, not all of them teachers but all very much involved in teaching, describe themselves and ask each other questions about their education, their best teachers, their worst teachers, what life itself has taught them. Their recollections ("teachers who hate kids") are often painfully direct, but their enthusiasm for teaching and (above all) the pleasure they find in it are unmistakable.

Together, they draw up a set of "further competencies" to set beside the official version. The critical one, of course, is "the ability to make a difference". Where does it lie? These voices have more to say on that than all the government agencies put together. Try them and see.

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