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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why All The "Conferences?"

Dan has an interesting conversation going about the terrifically poor seminars teachers must endure these days.

I feel his pain, and have for years.

First, let me give you my greatest peeve. I have not been given the opportunity to CHOOSE what I need to become a better instructor for over ten years now. I am told what I need by people who have left the classroom and the local school.

So here's my experience in the first 50 days of school.

September - I had to attend a one-day seminar to learn our new standards. I missed class to do it. In that meeting, I learned that it really is the teachers' fault that our kids screwed up on the CRCT test last Spring. Even though the test questions did not match the previous standards teacher were mandated to teach. BTW: Thanks for beginning the day that way, I'm sure I'll listen to you for the next 7 hours. You've gained my trust and respect.

October - We had a staff development day. All day was spent in the cafeteria listening to someone give us the why and how of differentiated instruction. Let me tell you a few more things I am tired of in seminars (in no particular order)...
  • "You are already using many of the strategies I will talk about today. I just hope to help you better organize your thinking..."
    • If I'm already doing this without being given the instruction, then use a pre-test you tell us we should use, and let me exempt the seat-time: a basic premise of differentiating instruction.
  • "Amongst yourselves, discuss why you think [differentiation, technology, web 2.0, etc.] is becoming so popular." Time passes - Final Answer - No Child Left Behind has made it so we have to reach every child (if there are at least 40 kids who are in a pre-selected minority group).
    • Really? Or is it that many speakers have long-since tired of teaching, and created their own market to sell their wares to unsuspecting, well-funded (even in economic down turns) school systems?
    • Or is it that we are NOT doing it and no one has the guts to tell the truth?
    • Or is it that we are NOT doing it because we have attempted these strategies, but the payoff is not big enough to warrant the time it takes to implement?
      • Do test scores really increase because I allow a student to dance around the room while they complete their math problems?
      • Does the student really learn because I let them use Google Maps instead of an atlas.
      • Does the student really learn (and retain) just because the teacher knows the student is a spatial learner, and therefore the student has more options to visualize why some societies choose not to educate the females in the village?
  • Then the PowerPointlessness of standing in front of a entire staff and lecturing for over 6 of the 7 hours.
    • This was in both seminars so far this year.
  • People who rename (or repackage) seminars, and call them workshops; even when there is no work done by the attenders other than to sit and listen.
This past week I was notified that I would be missing 3 days in a row in November to learn how to teach ELL students. Wait just a minute. I was the first non-ESOL teacher to teach these students 13 years ago...by choice! Now I have to spend three days away from my students to learn what I helped pioneer in our system? Do you know how much learning-time is lost in three days of teacher absence? My formula is multiply it by two, and hope it's accurate.

I think I have a new, cutting edge, amazing program; which research has proven numerous times increases test scores, reduces behavioral problems, and is the most cost-effective approach to raising student performance. WHAT IS IT? Keep the teacher in the classroom! The number one difference in the success of a student is the teacher...right? If the teacher is made to miss their class 9 days a year, that's a 5% decrease in learning time.

Let's just cut through it...Tell the truth...either teachers are not trusted to do their job, so administrators, boards, or someone on a higher pay-grade has some kind of "safe harbor" or loophole in NCLB that says, "If you show that you are providing training to your staff and the students fail the standardized test, then we'll cut you a break in the AYP report. Which makes me wonder if the consultants are in cahoots with the test-makers, test-graders, and politicians to ensure an audience of teachers and school systems who otherwise would not be able to stay in the field of education.

Guess what training I want and need - and would pay for? In my school of 1500 students, where 65% (or more) are Hispanic, I would like intensive language learning of Spanish so I can make a phone call home, stop by houses, and communicate with their parents, grandparents, and siblings. Any guesses as to how many language acquisition professional developments I've been able to attend?

The content of Room 755 is the interpretation of the Georgia State Standards for 7th grade Social Studies, and how we seek to address these standards in one classroom, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the school system in which I work. This work (unless expressly stated) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Note:Publications of professor-marvel.com or associated works (unless specifically labeled with another copyright notice) are licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The views expressed here are my own and reflect only my opinion.

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At 5:04 PM, Blogger Scott McLeod said...

This is a fabulous post. I've long advocated for teacher- or team-oriented training, AS LONG AS it was embedded in student learning needs (not just teacher preference). Imagine if you and/or your team had a pot of money and could use your days to engage in targeted, high-yield professional development activities designed to benefit YOUR STUDENTS.

There's a place for centralized training, but a much greater portion of our staff development should be devolved down to our front-line teachers and teams. I think we'd see a much better payoff than we do now with our current 'sit and get' system of training. We know the current model doesn't work, and yet it occurs every single year in almost every single school organization in the country. Shame on us.

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Susan Fitzell said...

I read this post and can only hope that when I present a seminar or do on-site coaching that my participants find what I present to be practical and useful. Poorly done presentations that are out of touch with what happens in the classroom give this method of in-service a bad reputation. I feel "Dan's" pain. I, also, struggle with the term "sit and get". I struggle with the belief that presentations are 'never' worthy of teacher time. Why? Because I've seen seminars make a positive difference in teacher's and student's lives. I've gotten emails 1-2 years after my seminar from someone who shared that what they learned from me has significantly helped their students and their teaching. Is this always the case? I'm sure not. Mostly, I think in-service needs to be relevant, the participant needs to want to learn and make changes, and administration needs to be supportive. Also, time needs to be carved out of the school year for follow-up to any one day presentation. Without some form of follow-up, most of what is shared is often forgotten when teachers go back to the classroom and face the huge challenges of education today. Thanks for reminding me about why what I do when I stand in front of an audience needs to be practical, researched base and effective and when possible customized to the needs of the audience.

At 6:16 PM, Blogger Ric Murry said...

Thanks for stopping by Susan. It's good to hear from a presenter. I agree with the follow-up necessity to make the learning more meaningful. My frustration still stems from the idea that I am not professional, or concerned, enough to know what I need to become a better teacher in the classroom. Most conferences that are district mandates are a rehash of things most teachers know, do, or have abandoned for something that works.

As my personal word of advice, never say to your group, "I'm sure most of you already do this, but I want to help you organize or put a name to what you are doing." As I just read in TEACHING AS A SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITY, once it is defined, it can be discarded, discounted, and otherwise dismissed.

All the best to you Susan.

Happy New Year,


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