I’m usually the optimistic one. I am certain that this causes occasional agita for some close friends who may get a teensy bit tired of me seeing the brighter side or looking for ways to rationalize a situation. However, I have become annoyed and alarmed by my own recent binge of cynicism, frustration, and chagrin. My colleagues seem to be at an all-time low; whining and kvetching seem to be at an all-time high. We are all suffering. I hear it everywhere. Morale has never been lower. [Well, it probably has been, but I can no longer recall the time and place, so, I’ll let this statement stand.]
Professional development is one of many current and long-term concerns shared by the teachers I know (and love). This is my 39th year of teaching. However, I can probably count on both hands the worthwhile PD that I have attended over the years. Penn Literacy Network (PLN) courses, science kit training, the Delaware Science Coalition’s Lead Teacher training sessions (1997-2002), the state’s on-line technology courses, a UD science literacy course (2000-2001), a 2010 RTI (Response to Intervention) conference arranged by DSEA, a field trip to the Holocaust Museum in D.C organized by the Halina Wind Preston Committee with orientation and specialized training for teachers, workshops for teachers offered at Ashland Nature Center, and some excellent pre-visit workshops for teachers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art come to mind.
I am no slouch. I am one of those folks who has repeatedly sought out workshops, trainings, and other learning experiences. If they built it, I would come.
However, much of the PD that is provided for teachers these days by their home school districts–I use the term provided in a loose way, since attendance is usually mandatory–has devolved into bits and pieces of disconnected, meaningless, unfocused, meandering presentations of whatever it is that someone else determines ALL professional staffs need to be exposed to. Some of the material may be poorly presented, and the entire process goes against almost all of the research that was touted 10-15 years ago about what signified excellent PD for adults, what was proven to actually work in bringing about change in classroom practice, and how PD should be structured in order to encourage the implementation of “best instructional practice.”
Everyone is expected to attend, no matter what the topic is. One size apparently does fit all. Analysis of reading test data is required for ELA teachers, as well as for math, science, social studies, plus P.E., music, art, technology, the librarian, the school nurse, etc. And, this year, with the advent of 90-minutes per week of “collaborative time” as part of our state’s Race-to-the-Top initiative, the former once a month PD has been expanded to include three hour-long sessions each month.
[I am likely to get in hot water with someone for this commentary, but, it’s time for somebody somewhere to speak up.]
Faculty meetings–you remember those–have become required opportunities for “professional development.” No more staff sessions where you actually got to talk about the school, the kids, the classes, the program, plans for the future, or, heaven forbid, talk together about resolving problems in the afore-mentioned arenas. Not any more. Those days are over.
Now we dutifully sit and wait and watch the next district-structured PowerPoint presentation.
That’s right, folks, it’s: PD VIA POWERPOINT
The most conversation that we are allowed comes with an occasional “think-pair-share” or during a gallery walk. Obviously, these sessions do not come anywhere close to being COLLABORATIVE. The people one really needs to work with are locked up doing the same thing—all at someone else’s discretion and bidding. This is happening at school after school. Month after month.
PowerPoint PD: It’s downright painful. It has become counter-productive. It’s unintentionally pernicious. It feels perpetual. Most of all, it seems pointless to most education professionals.
One more thing: it does not appear to be professional, and it is certainly not developmentally appropriate. But, no one asks the teaching professionals what is needed.