Why Michael Marland is relevant for educational technology teaching

I hadn’t realised, until I read Geoff Barton’s post (Remembering Michael Marland) this morning, that it is five years since Michael Marland died. Mr Barton had the astounding good fortune to know Michael Marland. I didn’t, but I did meet him and chat with him once, which left me with a warm glow that has never dissipated. It was one of the few occasions that I have met one of my heroes and not been bitterly disappointed.

At the time of Marland’s death, I wrote a small tribute to him, which I have reproduced here. His ideas were and are relevant to teachers who use technology in their classroom, as I hope I’ve explained.

From 8th July 2008…

I was very saddened to learn today, from The Times, that Michael Marland has died. This is my own small tribute to him.

I didn't know Michael Marland, except through two books of his. The main one was The Craft of the Classroom. I acquired my copy in 1975 and still lend it to new teachers. It is full of good, practiView/Edit Sourcecal advice. Unfashionable though it is to speak in terms of the teacher being in control, for teachers who teach or use educational ICT in their classrooms strong discipline is essential if the students are to be kept safe, both physically and in other ways.

The other book was one on departmental management. This was excellent preparation for my next career change, from classroom teacher to Head of Department in a secondary school.

Both books are distinguished by their down-to-earth suggestions which, having been tried and tested many times, actually work if they are applied consistently.

But perhaps the best thing about him is that Michael Marland did not allow fame to go his head. I have met many people in education who seem to be caught up in their own mythology, but Michael Marland was different. In addition to being both passionate and wise, he was something else. He was a gentleman. I was very privileged to have met him just a few months ago. Here is the article I wrote in the April 2008 edition of Computers in Classrooms shortly afterwards.

Meeting Michael Marland   

You may or may not know that I belong to the UK’s Society of Authors. It’s a great organisation, one which has provide me with a great deal of professional development in the field of writing. Well, not so much in the craft of writing but in the business of writing. It produces some extremely helpful guides, offers excellent legal advice (I never sign a publishing contract without having them check it out first) and some good talks by guest speakers.

It was at one of these meetings that I had the good fortune and great privilege to meet Michael Marland. I tend not to have "heroes", and don’t feel comfortable when people regard me as some sort of "guru" or other elevated position. However, I have admired Michael Marland from the very outset of my teaching career, back in 1975.

The reason is that he wrote a couple of books which were absolutely spot on in terms of advice. One, Departmental Management, proved to be an excellent guide when I was thinking about applying for Heads of Department positions. It’s now available only second-hand now. To be honest, the educational landscape has changed so much since the book was first published, in 1982, that I’m not sure how useful it would be now anyway.

The other book, which I bought in 1975, is the Craft of the Classroom: A Survival Guide. It’s now in its 3rd edition. Although I still have my original copy, I may try to obtain a review copy of the new one, to see how it has changed -- and whether the changes are for the better, of course.

So what was so good about Craft of the Classroom, why do we somehow have 3 copies in our house, and why do we lend a copy to everyone we know who embarks on teaching as a career?

To answer the second question first, we have three copies because I had one, my wife Elaine had her own copy when we met, and one of us, somewhere along the line, thought they had lost their copy and so went out and bought another one!

Now to the other two questions. There are four things that make this book stand out, and stand the test of time.

Firstly, the advice is sound. It’s based on techniques, almost painting by numbers. If you follow the advice in the book, you stand a very good chance of being in charge in your classroom. I will come back to this point in a moment.

Secondly, it is small. That’s important: you can put it in your pocket or handbag, and dip into it when you’re on the bus.

Thirdly, it isn’t patronising: it treats the teacher like the professional he or she is.

And fourthly, it does not regard schools as some sort of jungle, or children as monsters. Books which have titles which imply either or both of those don’t do anyone any favours in my opinion.

So what does all this have to do with educational ICT, and does not the very notion of being in charge of your classroom go against the grain?  
Now, I know that it is de rigueur to speak, these days, about teachers being the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage", but I think there are two issues here.

Firstly, the people who pontificate about that have either never taught, or taught only in highly favourable circumstances. For myself, I have always found that there is absolutely no way you can encourage partnership, collaboration or "guide-on-the-side-ness" without having first established who’s boss. Anything that smacks of trying to be friendly, or "cool", is as likely as not to be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

Secondly, teachers have a duty of care in terms of health and safety, a factor which applies in particular to a teacher who uses educational technology in her classroom. The teacher must be in a position to know that when she tells the class to stop what they are doing and listen, that the class will do so. She must know that while she is talking quietly a group of pupils at one end of the classroom, the other kids are not running amok, placing both themselves and their classmates in danger.

What was especially nice about meeting Michael Marland was that he was utterly charming, not to mention interesting to talk to. So, I strongly recommend that you buy Craft of the Classroom.