Heart of the matter
Michael Marland recommends a wide-ranging study based on realistic research. In all the talk about education, there is sadly little real consideration of what is the essence of teaching and what makes good teaching. Prejudices abound: analysis is rare.
Andy Hargreaves's major new work is therefore very welcome. This is an important analysis of the wider forces that influence or even control teaching and what it can achieve. It is a very thorough, if sometimes difficult, exploration of how to scrutinise what teaching really is, what it does, and what affects it. Wide-ranging and using research deeply, one of its key strengths is the underlying sense of what children in school are like and what teaching them feels like. This is therefore realistic research, study, and analysis.
Perhaps it is stronger on the primary years; the secondary division into separate courses hardly features in the analytic approach of Hargreaves's study of teaching. At times the text reads like a parody of "academic" writing. Quotations to support the obvious and references to convince over the readily acceptable are accumulated as if citation analysis and "How many references can you fit in?" were instructions from an academic board.
For instance, when he writes of the tendency for a sense of mission to create heresy, he has to quote someone's definition of heresy and argue the alternative definitions. Yet, even when almost consumed with a paroxysm of semantic and referential argument, he focuses on clear good sense. At the centre of his argument is the value of "teacher individualism". Why, though, could not a good copy editor clarify some of the tortuous so-called academic routes and help the author get to the point?
Often he essays generalisations that could place him open to huge attacks from teachers. For instance, he ventures that: "It is possible that the kinds of personalities attracted to teaching feel more comfortable in the company of children than in the company of adults." He even writes that: "It is also possible that it is primarily diffidence and defensiveness, fear of observation and evaluation that drive most teachers into the imagined security of their classrooms." He argues from his research and general observation that "Good intentions are persistently and infuriatingly turned on their heads." Further, he argues that the "modernistic, monolithic school system . . . continues to pursue deeply anachronistic surprises within opaque and inflexible structures".
Hargreaves's enquiry into "guilt" in teaching is revealing. Many teachers would approve of his analysis when he declares: "In teaching, persecutory guilt is guilt that comes without accountability."
The issue of preparation time is explored in detail, and research used to demonstrate that teacher individualism has its strengths: "Vibrant teacher cultures should be able to avoid the professional limitations of teacher individualism, while embracing the creative potential of teacher individuality. "
He is cutting about some forms of collegiality, which he shows to be "contrived". The research he pioneered into preparation time has depressing results, though it could be well used. He argues convincingly that "principals might do better to set expectations for the task, rather than expectations for the time".
His extensive use of USA conceptual analysis, research, and practical application is especially invigorating to the UK teacher-reader. His greatest strength is in teasing out the issue of collaboration and demonstrating when it is enabling and when it is limiting. Although a difficult book and one which could have been shorter without loss of argument, there are strikingly important passages. Schooling and teaching are sometimes at odds; this thoughtful book explores when and why - and maps the ways forward.
Michael Marland is Head of North Westminster Community School. He is General Editor of the Heinemann School Management Series and author of The Craft of the Classroom.