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The Jossey-Bass Reader on Teaching

reviewed by Kelvin L. Seifert - 2004

coverTitle: The Jossey-Bass Reader on Teaching
Author(s): Jossey-Bass Publishers
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787962406, Pages: 288, Year: 2003
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The Jossey-Bass Reader on Teaching is one of a series of readers put together by an unnamed committee of staff and/or consultants to the Jossey-Bass publishing company.  (Other Readers, in case you are curious, focus on school leadership, technology, school reform, and gender.)  All nineteen of the articles have been published elsewhere previously.  Most were published in the 1990s, though a few date back to earlier decades (e.g. Herb Kohl’s dates from 1984, and Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s on literacy instruction goes back to 1964.).

Although the volume has a brief (2 ½-page) foreword by Ann Lieberman, there is little introductory guidance about the purposes of the volume, nor about relationships among the various readings.  This is not necessarily bad; the articles generally are of high quality, and their relative independence from each other will allow reading them selectively, and allow students to do the same. If used in a university course, instructors will presumably make thoughtful choices in assigning chapters and in justifying the choices to students. Nonetheless, the overall rationale of the book is more implied than stated.  It has to be inferred from the layout of the book combined with any general knowledge you might have about current issues in education.  The most obvious clues come from the three major named parts of the book:  “What Does It Mean To Teach?”, “Becoming a Teacher,” and “Developing Your Skills.”  To oversimplify things a bit, I tag the three sections as respectively inspirational, experiential, and instrumental in focus.

Part 1, “What Does It Mean To Teach?”, contains five articles that are indeed somewhat philosophical and inspirational.  The article by Parker Palmer, for example, sets the tone. In “The Heart of a Teacher: Identity and Integrity in Teaching,” he urges us to be authentic about teaching:  to treat it as a calling, to do it only in ways consistent with your deepest beliefs and predilections, to ignore educational fads and issues about teaching in politically correct ways.  Later articles in this section speak in the same general ballpark, though in different tones.  In the last of the five essays, for example, Maxine Greene acknowledges the “dark” forces that make it difficult to realize deeply meaningful, authentic teaching; but she encourages us to seek it anyway.

Part 2, “Becoming a Teacher,” describes experiences of initial teaching. The implied reader for this section is not so much the experienced reflective practitioner, as in Part 1, but the future or new teacher seeking validation and support by hearing others tell about what happened to them. Seven educators present their experiences, which vary in many ways at once.  Patrick McWilliams, in “Learning to Read,” describes his initial harshness at grading student essays, and the negative effects of his harshness on one student’s motivation.  Herb Kohl, on the other hand, describes his involuntary transfer from one school to another during his initial student teaching, a transfer triggered by his criticizing a fellow teacher in front of a student.  Robert Fried, for still another example, offers no-nonsense advice to newcomers from the perspective of a veteran teacher—complete with a numbered list of “tips for passionate teaching.”

In Part 3, “Developing Your Skills,” the focus becomes more instrumental.  Here, seven experienced teachers describe activities, strategies, or events that were successful, or at least educative, in their development as professionals.  Sylvia Ashton-Warner describes her approach to literacy education, which she calls “organic reading.”  Vito Perrone describes a program of professional development for teachers that stimulated mutual reflection on practice as well as the development of teaching portfolios.  Martin Haberman describes strategies for good teaching which he believes tend to be missing in schools serving low-income communities, but which teachers have special responsibility to use anyway.

The great strength of this volume is that it has something for everyone—from philosophical imperatives, to vivid stories, to advice for teachers.  In true post-modernist fashion, it literally speaks in many voices (nineteen of them, to be precise), allowing readers potentially to witness the range and power of educational issues and their always-partial solutions.  Whether readers in fact will experience the potential is another question.  In spite of its multi-vocal organization, the book is “merely” modernist in another way:  it simply presents the authors’ own words as if they need no interpretation. In her foreword, Ann Lieberman confines herself to brief and general comments about the challenges of teaching, and does not attempt to make connections among the chapters. These are left entirely for the reader to make. In fact, even choosing which chapters to read appears to be entirely in the reader’s hands.  No explicit case is made for reading essays that might at first seem irrelevant or alien to particular readers’ experiences or expectations.  If I happen to live and work where there is no Hispanic population, for example, should I bother reading Mike Rose’s chapter describing his experience teaching in Calexico, California?  Probably I should, probably I would enjoy doing so, and probably I would feel wiser as a result; but the book itself does not build a case for making this choice. Such silence reflects the decision by the publishers not to recruit or name one or more official editors, who would ordinarily be held responsible for the selection of chapters. Instead the publishers confine the naming of responsibility to the acknowledgement page (where they imply that the selection committee was Ann Lieberman, Karen Kent, Caryl Hurtig Casbon, and Robert Fried). “Real” editor(s), however, would normally also add connective tissue to the volume: they would write transitional material to tie together authors’ contributions.  Placing disparate authors in a common framework can of course be a difficult job, but it is helpful nonetheless even for senior, experienced readers.

The Jossey-Bass Reader on Teaching, then, provides an unintended test case for reader response theory: much will depend on what readers bring to this text, beyond what the text itself contains. The title—Reader—even suggests that the selection committee deliberately intended reader response, rather than textual meaning, to be essential for understanding the book.  Since in all likelihood the book will be marketed for adoption in university education courses, giving the university student-readers complete responsibility for responding may turn out to be appropriate.  In that case, though, much will depend not only on the unwritten connections that students see within and among the essays, but also on the connections that their instructors see.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 2, 2004, p. 406-408
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11167, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 12:56:36 PM

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About the Author
  • Kelvin Seifert
    University of Manitoba
    E-mail Author
    Kelvin Seifert is professor of educational psychology and teacher education at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. His current research and publications concern the development of preservice teachers’ professional identities and the development of teachers’ beliefs about learning and teaching. He is also the author of several university textbooks, including Constructing a Psychology of Teaching and Learning and (with Robert Hoffnung) Child and Adolescent Development, both published by Houghton Mifflin.
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