Back to School Reading
Millions of children across the country headed back to school this week, and despite some manufactured controversy over President Obama’s address to our nation’s students, the school year is off to a smooth start. As pupils sharpen pencils and crack spines on new textbooks, teachers and administrators work behind the scenes to ensure a smooth transition to a new school year. Though the focus of the back-to-school push is on the students, we offer here two titles from Dan C. Lortie that focus on the adults in the school building.
When we think about school principals, most of us imagine a figure of vague, yet intimidating authority—for an elementary school student, being sent to the principal’s office is roughly on par with a trip to Orwell’s Room 101. But with School Principal: Managing in Public, Lortie aims to change that, offering here an intensive and detailed look at principals, painting a compelling portrait of what they do, how they do it, and why.
Lortie begins with a brief history of the job before turning to the daily work of a principal. These men and women, he finds, stand at the center of a constellation of competing interests around and within the school. School district officials, teachers, parents, and students all have needs and demands that frequently clash, and it is the principal’s job to manage these conflicting expectations to best serve the public. Unsurprisingly then, Lortie records his subjects’ professional dissatisfactions, but he also vividly depicts the pleasures of their work and the pride they take in their accomplishments. Finally, School Principal offers a glimpse of the future with an analysis of current issues and trends in education, including the increasing presence of women in the role and the effects of widespread testing mandated by the government.
Lortie’s scope is both broad and deep, offering an eminently useful range of perspectives on his subject. From the day-to-day toil to the long-term course of an entire career, from finding out just what goes on inside that office to mapping out the larger social and organizational context of the job, School Principal is a truly comprehensive account of a little-understood profession.
Upon its initial publication in 1975, Lortie’s Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study was heralded as a new classic of the genre; many reviewers dubbed it the best social portrait of the profession since Willard Waller’s classic The Sociology of Teaching. In 2002, the Press reissued the book—including a new preface bringing the author’s observations up to date. It remains is an essential view into the world and culture of a vitally important profession.
Using a multifaceted approach, Lortie portrays the ethos of the teaching profession—that pattern of orientations and sentiments that is particular to teachers. Schoolteacher opens with a selective history of the structure of the occupation in America, and, with the help of intensive interviews with teachers, observational studies, and surveys, examines how teachers are recruited, socialized, and rewarded in their careers today. Lortie gleans the meanings and feeling teachers attach to their jobs and then connects the forgoing analyzes to provide suggestions for practical actions and further research ideas.
For more titles on education, check out our complete catalog here. Now hit the books!