PREFACE: This has been sitting in my drafts for a little over a week and a half now. Revision has been key with this post, though the reality and weight of the situation remains. Also, this is an insanely long post.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know if “deprofessionalization” is a word, but let’s roll with it.
I really enjoy developing myself professionally. I take a great deal of pride in the hard work I do, and I find every moment of my job to be worth it. The hours are long and the thanks are often few, but knowing I can help change a child’s life every single day is just worth it.
When I say I enjoy developing myself professionally, I need this to be known: I hate professional development. There are few things I dislike about my job, but professional development is one of them.
The concept behind PD is great — to enlist teachers in a time where we can learn and grow together, to keep us up-to-date on best practice and effective teaching tools. I’m fully aware that there are meetings that are deemed as necessary — things like the mundane beginning-of-year humdrum of how to check out books from the book room (because apparently everyone forgot over the summer and can’t read the laminated paper next to the scanner?) and understanding that kids in your class have allergies and you need to take it seriously (I mean, DUH, right?), and district-wide initiative sessions about things like equity and Common Core State Standards. Really, I get that. The problem that I have is sitting through the same sessions over and over and over and over and…
You get the picture.
I’ve sat in good professional development; I’ve also sat in poor professional development. Here’s the skinny on what makes me hate it:
- Being treated like a child. All the time, teachers are encouraged to try new teaching strategies. The only appropriate time someone running a PD session should ever treat his/her participants as students is when demonstrating a new teaching method. Note: You must let participants know you are doing this. One of my all-time biggest pet peeves is when I’m sitting in a session and I’m being talked down to like a child. Personally, I don’t believe in talking down or talking simply to my third graders, because in reality they’re just young humans who need to learn to communicate. I speak to them like I may speak to my friends and peers, and I’m honest with them in all my responses. When you are an adult leading a professional development session with a room full of adult participants, please, for the love of all God’s creation, DO NOT say any of these things: (a) Quick Five!, (b) 3-2-1, freeze!, (c) 1-2-3, eyes on me!, or (d) any other variation of an attention-getting call you would use in a classroom of elementary school children. We are adults. If you start talking, I’m fairly confident that we’re all able to pick up on social cues and start listening to whatever you have to say.
Also, can we please stop it with the ice breakers to start every single meeting?! I know I do “get to know you” games at the beginning of the year with my class, but after the first couple weeks those games stop and we get down to business in the most educationally stimulating ways possible. Why are we still wasting time in the afternoons of April writing two truths and a lie about ourselves? Haven’t we been working together all year? What is this initiative really achieving? If you think it’s making our staff and grade level teams closer, it is not.
Finally, I just need to say this — if you want my feedback on a PD session, just ask. I’m more than happy to give honest feedback via online survey or face to face. Please do not treat me as incompetent and give me sentence frames to “explain how I feel” as we take turns sitting in a little kumbayah circle on the carpet. Listen, y’all, I am for real all about a good kumbayah circle and talking about feelings (I’m that in-tune-with-your-emotions teacher who makes you greet her every day and give compliments to your classmates regularly), but really? We know how to tell you our thoughts on a PD session. Don’t try to use sentence frames to get us to cover up how we really feel about it.
- Lacking differentiation. On top of being asked to stay up to pace on best practice of teaching strategies in the classroom, teachers are often also asked to differentiate (*BUZZ BUZZ* Yep, that’s right! You heard a teacher jargon buzzword!). Differentiating means that you give students what they need based on what you might see in class. Seems totally logical, right? If a kid is struggling with decoding words, you put that kid in a reading group where you spend a little more time with word attack skills. If a kid has a hard time multiplying, maybe you give that kid a little more multiplication practice in class since (s)he’s already mastered adding and subtracting. You give kids what they need, when they need it. Unfortunately, this happened in none of the professional development I was in last year. None. Every single PD session we had throughout the ENTIRE YEAR was about literacy. Now, I am well aware of the importance of literacy, especially with my elementary school babies. This is a formative time for those kids in all aspects of their learning, and literacy is even more important since the students at my school are learning two languages at once. Trust me, it’s important — I’m a third grade reading teacher and I had kids reading like kindergartners this year — it’s REALLY important we focus on literacy concepts. However, it hurts my heart a little bit to know that I wasn’t developing in other areas of my teaching through my school/district.
I’m a person incredibly passionate about science education, and I hate that there is never any emphasis placed on science in our PD sessions. Those who run our PD tell us that we touch base with science through reading materials and discussing science literacy, which I agree is important, but where’s the professional development in actually TEACHING science? In actually TEACHING math? I know for a fact from working with someone this year that there are teachers out there teaching science who aren’t comfortable doing it. If the teacher isn’t comfortable teaching it, how can we expect his/her kids to be comfortable learning and, almost more importantly retaining, that information? If there’s something I’ve learned this year, it’s how crucial it is to be confident and excited when presenting information to children, for it truly makes a world of difference in their learning. Why aren’t we equipping teachers with this confidence and excitement?!
Moving away from differentiation between subject matter, I also find it imperative to differentiate between skill level, letting teachers self-assess to see where they feel like they fall. For example, there was a professional development session at our school this year about writing language and content objectives (we use the SIOP at our school – I highly recommend looking into it if you haven’t heard about it before!) based on Common Core curriculum standards. All grade levels were to attend and go through various standards, practicing writing their objectives.
I’m sorry, but that is not worth two hours of my time. If I’m already writing good, comprehensive objectives, why am I sitting in this room listening to a coach talk about how to write objectives?! In my opinion, if you are finding teachers in your school who are struggling with objective-writing, then you talk to them individually or ask them to walk around and observe teachers who write solid, standards-based objectives.
Differentiated PD should give teachers a choice in what/how they want to professionally develop themselves. If you’re telling me to give my kids choice, you should maybe think about giving it to me, too.
Between being treated like a child and lacking differentiation, I think that pretty much covers the main reasons why I hate professional development sessions. It is because of this that I go outside my school and district to find ways where I know I will be able to grow as a teacher — that’s the whole reason I applied for this Kenan Fellowship.
The only other jobs I’ve ever had in my life are being a babysitter, an Ann Taylor Factory clothing connoisseur, and a UNC Department of Housing office assistant extraordinaire. In all of those jobs, I had never been talked down to or demeaned in any meetings or interactions with adults. Most recently in working with the North Carolina Science Festival, I’ve noticed some other things as well. Last week I attended my first staff meeting at the Morehead Planetarium. The group of adults met in a room, the director stepped to the front at 2:00pm and greeted everyone, and gave us all a little update on what’s going on with the NCGA (much appreciated, Todd). He gave us a little rundown of the agenda and people started coming up giving blurbs about what each department within the Planetarium is working on at the moment and what their plans are for the future. The meeting was succinct, to the point, and there was the freedom to talk without hands raised.
This past week has been a busy one at the Science Festival; I’ve been doing a ton of work making spreadsheets and organizing information for our program, and I’m setting up meetings and writing plans like there’s no tomorrow. It’s been incredibly motivating doing this work, and I’m finally realizing one of the reasons why: it’s because I’m treated like a professional. These people call me their “resident teacher expert” and ask me to look at lessons and give solar system book recommendations (y’all know I’m all over that). These people trust me and sincerely value the input I have regarding the creation of a program designed for elementary school children.
I’m realizing I’m not valued as a teacher in my own workplace. The problem is, friends, that sometimes teachers are deprofessionalizing their own careers.
Yes, deprofessionalization comes from the outside, too; I think every teacher, especially in North Carolina, is fully cognizant of that.
However, we need to realize what’s going on within our own schools’ walls, too.
Teacher friends, please value the opinions and educational practices others in your field use. We are allies. We are great resources. We do not have to get up in front of each other and act like we’re still teaching our babies when we’re running professional development — chill out, we’re all tired and need a little breathing time. Run that PD session like an actual peer who acknowledges that every single person in the room is wiped out and it’s only Wednesday. Sit down. Turn off your teacher voice. Don’t use the phrase “Quick Five!” ever after 2:45pm. It’s okay.
So, the question arises: How do we combat this? How do we, as teachers, turn PD around in our schools?
My answer? YOU.
To me, it makes the most sense to hear from other teachers around the school. There’s a slew of educators you work with that are highly competent in various things — why not let them teach the staff about those things?!
Some of the best professional development I’ve found in the last two years has come from teachers on Twitter. I’ve learned so many strategies and connected with so many inspired educators across the world. It’s amazing to hear the ways other teachers interpret standards and the ways to teach various concepts. Expanding my personal PD base via Twitter has been an integral part of my teaching career thus far, especially when it comes to connecting to North Carolina educators. My time at EdCampNC two years ago was a great springboard for this, and I look forward to continuing to expand my repertoire in September for another round of EdCamp in Raleigh!
Granted, I’m only getting ready to start year three and I know there’s still such a long way to go, but I am many steps closer thanks to all those beautiful educators tweeting brilliance in 140 characters or less.
This summer I’ve also been fortunate enough to engage in highly active and rigorous PD with my Kenan Fellowship program (all of which you can probably find backchanneling on Twitter searching for #kenanfellowsPD or #kfpchat), and it’s like I’ve seen the light. I now know what great PD looks like and how beneficial it is for educators. I haven’t ever been this challenged by my peers, and it’s honestly exhilarating. I love fielding the questions these other teachers have about my curriculum, probably because it’s really making me think about my unit. I’m stepping back and gaining a whole new perspective on not only this program I’m developing, but on teaching in general. The sessions for our PD are interesting and relevant to me, and they call me to be a better educator by encouraging me to push myself. Truly, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Needless to say, I’ve felt this way for a while (is it obvious?) and these weeks of interning with the Science Festival have really opened my eyes to how amazing it feels to be seen as a professional educator (I’m a teacher-scientist, as the Kenan Fellowship likes to say!).
We are professionals, my educator friends, regardless of how professionally deprofessionalized we constantly are. Stay strong, and let’s show everyone how effective and meaningful PD can be.