Monday, September 12, 2005

On professional development for teachers

At the end of last month, the Education Wonks posted a link and some thoughts on professional development. I made a note of it, as it made me recall older days, but then the semester started. I have been busy, and I did not have much time to write this up to share with others. Anyhow, as an educator, I have had "professional development "inflicted" on me a few times. So, the post from the Education Wonks, and the links the blog shared, brought back memories of a certain high priced consultant the district I used to teach in hired. This was back when I was still starting out as a teacher, and yet, back then, I was already aware that this person was not going to tell me anything I did not know already. Heck, to be honest, I cannot even remember what the heck it was this person was trying to show us (if "show" is even the right word). What I do remember, quite vividly to this day for some reason, was one of the veteran teachers was knitting as the session was going on. I don't quite recall what it was she was knitting. Was it a sweater? Something for a grandchild? I don't think it matters as much as the image of her with her reading glasses and her knitting. Anyhow, Wonks points to what is called the dark side of staff development. Basically, it refers to those horrible presentations where professional educators are patronized and made to feel like children. Heck, I don't think children get treated in such an infantile way as some of those professional consultants treat teachers. And by the way, these consultants are everywhere in the educational chain. If that catalog cover reminds you of some sessions you may have attended, you know what I am talking about. I am sure colleges hire some for faculty and so do some libraries (though, with funding as it is, I can only envision a very large library district doing such, but it is not unknown). Then there are some conference presentations, but that is a separate post.

Then, there are the notes of the TFA Trenches, which Wonks also linked to, that discuss unprofessional development. He opens by wondering if those who can't teach, end up teaching teachers. I hope not. I have not quite lost my faith that much, but I do wonder about the educrats that end up "teaching" teachers at workshops and such. He does post some lessons he would keep in mind if he ever becomes a teacher trainer. I think these are valid lessons, so I will post the list, and go read the post to get his thoughts on each item:

  • "Teachers, even when in a learning role, do not cease to be professionals."
  • "There is a time and place for “lesson demonstrations:” in front of classes of children, tape-recorded for our professional critique and observation."
  • "Be meticulously planned, carefully prepared, and absolutely efficient."
  • "Do not take time to write norms."
  • "Lastly, do not serve bad food."
These are simple lessons, and they are very true. What most so-called trainers forget is that teachers are professionals, and they are not children. They know right away when someone comes to patronize them or treat them like children. I am sure that veteran teacher knew exactly that she was being forced to lose her time on a day of "professional development." Now, before anyone gasps over a teacher not paying attention at a workshop when they expect it from their students, I will say think again about the lessons above. Teachers are professionals; they deserve respect and expect it from professionals. Respect is something earned; it is not automatically given. So, when some consultant comes to insult you as an educator, respect is likely one of the first casualties. As a result, you have teachers who knit and others tuning out and others grading papers to at least salvage some of the time they are being made to lose.

Having said this, not all professional development is bad. Thank goodness, there are some professional development opportunities that are worthwhile. My experience is that those opportunities are run by teachers that still practice teaching. One good example is the National Writing Project, that brings teachers of writing at all levels to reflect on their writing and pedagogy, to learn about the latest theories and best practices, and to find time to do their own writing. These workshops usually take place during the summer, and teachers can often get graduate credit depending on their location. When you complete the training, you are certified as a teacher-consultant, and your mission becomes to take what you learned back to your classroom and your colleagues. It is a true model of teachers teaching teachers and a great example of teacher research at work. I am proud to say I went through the National Writing Project. It was a while ago, yet what I learned then has stayed with me not only during my time in schools, but in higher education as well. Do note, that projects like NWP are outside a school district; they are not "hired" educrats. I did have a chance to go out of the school, a summer, share some knowledge and good times with some excellent teachers, and learn a a thing or two. So, there is professional development, and then there is "professional development."

No comments: