Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Teachers Misbehaving

Purveyors of teachers professional development don't like it much when the teachers they are supposed to be teaching misbehave. I have been on both sides of the podium. Teachers have good reason for regarding professional development sessions as a monumental waste of time. Usually the sessions are mandatory, and the presenter has been commissioned to present specific information whether or not the audience is interested. One school district asked me to present a hands-on literacy session to high school teachers on developing questions that build critical thinking.

It quickly became clear that surprisingly these high school teachers wanted tips on phonics, and how to integrate phonics into their content lessons. I converted my presentation to phonics on the fly. Because I had not brought any phonics materials with me, I ended up delivering mostly lecture, but the teachers loved it. Six months later I was commissioned to present an overview of the six traits of good writing to a group of elementary teachers in a completely different geographical area. The teachers wanted to voice their complaints about the district's adoption of the reading curriculum, Success for All. I allowed them to vent and then carried on with my presentation. Only later I found out that the administration canceled my future presentations because I did not shut down the criticism.

So you never know.

For every expectation, there are conflicting expectations. If some teachers expect presenters to model hands-on techniques, other teachers want the presenter to just tell them the info and let them go back to grading papers. The presenter comes prepared with the information commissioned by the administration only to find the audience deems the information irrelevant to their needs. I gained appreciation and sympathy for presenters when I became a presenter.

The worst problems with professional development can be avoided by letting teachers create their own professional development. Administrators are notoriously out of touch with the teaching staff.

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