Book Reviews

Reimagining the Call to Teach: A Witness to Teachers and Teaching by David T. Hansen. New York and London: Teachers College Press, 2021[Record]

  • Daniella J. Forster and
  • Janet Orchard

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  • Daniella J. Forster
    School of Education, College of Human and Social Futures, University of Newcastle, Australia

  • Janet Orchard
    School of Education, University of Bristol, UK

In the opening chapters, Hansen re-examines established concepts to define the “vocational” nature of teaching, which, he reminds us, entails showing or instructing – providing signs or outward expressions of something one knows (p. 1) – that leads others into a state of new knowing. Thus, teachers engage with others in a form of service, positioned by Hansen at a crossroads, or third space, somewhere between public service and technically focused work. While recognizing the importance of the vocational in teaching in a practical, craft-like sense, Hansen asserts its ideological dimension too, in the quasi-religious sense of a vocation. He describes the role of teacher as one that is to be inhabited, lived so deeply and fully it becomes constitutive of the person themselves. He extends his previous discussion of this theme by arguing that the call to teach leans into soulfulness, passion, and authenticity, including the suffering entailed when ideals must be compromised. Current conceptualizations of morality in a teacher’s role, caught up in managerialist discourses, do not attend to the intensely idealistic view of teaching that Hansen describes, driven by what he terms its “commanding-ness” (p. 5); arguably there is a greater divide now than when the Call to Teach was originally written. However, such a sense of drive and urgency is necessary, he maintains, if teachers are to connect fully to what teaching entails according to other traditions of being and teaching – that is, saturated with moral meaning – which place qualities of attunement, receptivity, and being with others as central to teaching. One concern we have is for the reader for whom such sentiments do not resonate, either with their experiences of teaching as a practice or their in-principle understanding of what teaching entails. They might read these words and feel overwhelmed, disheartened, incredulous even, at what Hansen expects of teachers, dwelling in their way of conduct such that the technical aspects of the role become informed by passion and a “feeling for the truth” by which they should live, which is easily not “reducible to an answer” (p. 32). Such instincts, Hansen maintains, drawing on John Dewey, are “rooted in primary experience … preanalytical and precognitive” (p. 35). These high existential expectations are not ones that all teachers will recognize or accept. And school systems rely on teachers for whom teaching is just a job to sustain educational provision in bulk. Hansen pursues the teacher’s relationship with theory in practice in chapter 3. Given the practice of regular self-cultivation required to sustain the high ideal of teaching being proposed, the arts have a pivotal part to play in this account, with metaphor and poetry particularly potent in “rendering the call to teach faithfully” (p. 50). Hansen describes the Person Project that lies at the heart of the book in some procedural detail here, his “bearing witness” to teaching being a distinctive “way of looking and knowing” enabling him to understand, and amplify, the call to teach as experienced by his participants (p. 57). He has attuned himself to the morally loaded minutiae of daily teaching and the quality of commitment informing these ethically minded teachers and their practices. Consistent with his understanding of “theory,” Hansen draws widely on the explanatory power of poetry, religion, art, literature, and film, inviting readers to do likewise, to attend to “resonant particulars” in what teachers are saying, thinking, and doing. The term, he explains, captures that which brings the “being of a human being … into presence,” gathering “the wholeness of a person” in a glimpse of revelation (p. 65). Such insights are found in otherwise overlooked …