Apparently I am too rich as I subscribed to Education Week. Now I have full access on-line plus a paper copy to put myself to sleep. Don’t laugh, it often does in ways that More, Time, and Cosmopolitan don’t.
One of the reoccurring themes of late is the effectiveness of professional development in teaching. While everyone can agree that the cost is often much greater than districts and schools themselves anticipate, no one can agree as to the impact of the professional development. Put more precisely, no one really knows if sending the teachers, at great cost, is making a damned bit of difference.
Can we get a collective: O U C H!?
Yet, to many teachers this hit their “doh!” reflex. Most would tell you outright that a great deal of professional development is a waste of time. Less experienced teachers, usually but not always, find more good than bad with PD. More experienced teachers start to notice what they call the pendulum effect — we used to do this, then we were told NOT to do it. Whether you consider teaching cyclical, a pendulum, or some other metaphor for “deja vu”, there comes a time when you’re being sold your own TV out of a back of a truck. When that happens, lordy, it ain’t pretty ’cause these teachers are PISSED. Rightfully so, by the way.
To illustrate this, we had a day-long PD with a man who was selling us Marzano. He started by telling us to “build community” with our students. Save for those who were too busy playing with their phones to notice, a collective swell of anger filled the room. Teachers were going all Norma Rae wanting to charge the man. Here the district office (DO) marching orders were to start the pacing calendar on day one because there wasn’t a minute to lose, and here was someone telling them what they already knew. You can’t teach students who aren’t connected to you. Being the gracious, polite person I am, I took to lovingly referring to him as a snake oil salesman.
The most interesting part of this debate regarding PD is that NO ONE, not one that I know of, has thought to use these findings and extrapolate them towards general classroom learning. I mean this in the kindest way, teachers are THE ABSOLUTE WORST STUDENTS EVER! It cannot be emphasized enough that a room filled with teachers can be a viper’s nest.
Professional development, like all teaching and learning, only works when the participants are actively engaged AND feel that they have some reason for being there. Teachers who are forced into PD due to legal issues (NCLB, PI School Status, whatever) don’t cotton well to what the presenters are delivering. Often, too, the materials being delivered are mediocre. Whether it’s dull content or content that is being forced into 40 hours when it’s only 20, teachers check out. Like any annoying high school student the iToy, the lap top, or homework are brought in to make the time pass tolerably. Worse for the participants is that they had to make sub plans for the day, which may or may not have been delivered well, and then be held accountable for student learning that may or may not have occurred while the teacher was out. Sort of like death by boredom with salt rubbed in your paper cuts for good measure.
Having been in this game for a good decade, I’ve had opportunities to enjoy good PD and bad PD. Generally I figure that I can always get one or two good ideas to take back to the classroom. Is that good enough for 10 hours of labor (8 hours in class and 2 hours for sub plans), probably not. Is the idea to time ratio incredibly small? I’d say so. However, I’ve attended brilliant PD where I wanted to retake the class to pick up on ideas I’d forgotten only to find that person’s philosophy too radical to be allowed to deliver PD. Yes, politics reign.
I’m pleased that policy makers are looking at this vital area of education. Teachers always need (and most seek) continuous education. However, by narrowing the field of what type of education teachers deliver, there is little reason for teachers to seek outside knowledge that doesn’t support the current curricular methodology required by the state and/or district. No longer does it pay for a teacher to learn more about art (science, engineering, music, etc.) education when there’s no place for it in the classroom. Furthermore, through narrowly defined curriculum states run the risk of having teachers educated in the prescribed methodology and having no where else to turn to for continuous improvement. How ironic that there will be nothing left to teach the teachers.
Right now, based on my observations, most of the money going into PD is wasted. The time spent away from school by teachers (remember, time IS money) is being wasted. The good will teachers bring with them is being wasted and replaced by attitudes that are toxic. If we are to continue making teaching desirable, I think we need to look into teaching teachers well.
Otherwise it’s time to pack up and go home.