R E S P E C T: Teachers Need It, Andy Hargreaves Gets It
I have a confession to make: today, I became an Andy Hargreaves Fangirl.
To understand this, we must take a trip back through my nine year profession as a public school teacher. We’ll consider what I, a lowly English teacher, know about ‘the need for a codified body of professional knowledge’ and how ‘education can be seen as a profession.’
In the first place, I fought hard against becoming a teacher. My greatest complaint as a college senior was, “No one respects teachers.” That was before I even knew how little teachers are paid. My biggest concern as a soon-to-be-graduate of the College of William and Mary was that no one would respect or be impressed by my profession.
Thankfully, once I set foot in a classroom things clicked. I loved my kids. They didn’t seem to think I was too bad. We had adventures. They learned useful things. Because I taught in a rural school that lacked oversight, I was able to buck traditional curriculum within six months. Based on my own experiences with hands-on learning, as well as hours spent reading sites like Edutopia, I started experimenting with what “feels right.” Soon, what I termed “creative, immersive teaching” would be dubbed “gamification” and “project based learning.” The results were everything Twitter promised and more, except for one thing - it didn’t seem like anyone knew or cared about what I was doing.
Fast forward seven years. I was flying high: my classroom management rarely failed, students were highly engaged, grades and comprehension were up, and I had more PD points than our HR department knew what to do with. I spent thousands of my own dollars attending and presenting at education conferences as far away as Chicago because I loved learning about my field. And still, no one seemed to care. I began to wonder if I was even a good teacher at all. Desperate for validation, I appealed to the only authority I knew: I applied to begin certification through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.
In the end, I got my certification. It didn’t really matter, though. As Hoyle & Jon point out, "in medicine, the possession of an accepted stock of secret knowledge...has become ingrained in a network of common cultural expectations" (1995, p. 75). If only that were true for teachers! If it were, I’d wear my white coat with pride. Instead, as a newly-minted NBCT I found nine people who knew what being board certified meant. One of those was my mentor teacher, who’d failed her own certification attempt. No one I was trying to impress with my professionalism - principals, parents, or the community at large - seemed to know or care that I’d proven anything at all. In the end, although achieving board certification was rewarding for me personally, I look back on it as an expensive way of getting strangers halfway across the country to say, “Yeah, you’re doing good. Keep it up.”
All of which leads me back to Hargreaves.
Academical writing tends to flummox me, so when I started out reading “Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional Learning,” I thought Hargreaves was saying all teachers progress through a series of “periods” in their PD journeys, which seemed fair. What he actually said, though, was even more heartening. My notes from the section on “The Age of the Collegial Professional” summarize Hargreaves’ meaning this way:
“Teaching is hard AND getting worse/harder. More demands for everything on everyone from everywhere. Let's try to work together to make it easier to deal with! But we (Ts) still don't have control over our purposes, so that sucks. We're tired.”
Great Scott, I thought. This guy gets it. He isn’t writing down to me about what he expects I’ll do in my career - he’s down here in the dirt saying, “Yeah, it’s rough out here! And you’re trying hard to make things happen.” That was incredibly validating. Validation alone, though, can’t turn me into a fangirl. It takes Youtube to do that.
Thanks be to God, someone on our class discussion board cited a video from 2019 in which Hargreaves gave a panel speech for the Albert Shanker Institute. I didn’t plan to watch the whole 23 minutes. But when Hargreaves launched with, “teaching is an art, craft, science, calling, service, and also a job,” I found myself spell-bound. This is why I’m here, in graduate school, in the first place: I came to find guys like Andy Hargreaves. “If science dominates education,” he continued, “I do not want children or teachers to be nothing outside of the machine.” That’s it! I cheered. That’s exactly how I feel! No one cares whether I know a lot or a little, or whether I’m a professional at all. All anyone seems to care is where I teach, and how well that school performs. Outside of my school, it's easy to feel like nothing.
Andy concluded his rousing ASI presentation with this observation: “We’re in a world where people say ‘everyone’s an expert or no one’s an expert - everything’s fake.’ And we need to reclaim expertise.” As a newly minted ride-or-die fan, I have to agree with him. Teaching does need a standard of professional knowledge that folks outside looking in can recognize, respect, trust. Stakeholders need something they can depend on when they’re choosing schools or teachers for their kids. I think it would benefit everyone:
Teachers would receive respect and maybe a modicum more self-direction and autonomy.
Community members could more easily trust and rely on their local schools for the care and attention their children need.
Maybe, just maybe, policy makers could be persuaded to unbend their necks, open their checkbooks, and swing the balance of budgets toward providing life-giving professional education services to their constituents’ children.
I mean, shoot. Just about anything would be better than what we’ve got right now. So I say, go get ‘em, Andy. I’ll be right by your side, working for your team, just as soon as I get my degree.
Albert Shanker Institute. (2019, April 11). Andy Hargreaves Teaching: Art, Craft, or Science? [Video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiceIdxYbfY
Hargreaves, A. (2000). Four ages of professionalism and professional learning. Teachers and Teaching: History and Practice, 6 (2), 151-182.
Hoyle, E. & Jon, P. (1995). The issue of professional knowledge. In Professional Knowledge and Professional Practice. London: Cassell, 44-76.