Friday, February 27, 2015

Where Teachers Can't Teach Teachers to Teach

I just got an email from our fearless principal, which was full of typos and misplaced modifiers.  She wanted to let us know that we are expected back at school on Monday (thank goodness, because I totally forgot,) and that we’ll spend the entire day having professional development sessions with fun names like “How can I accommodate you?” 

Not to be critical, but that session sounds a little pervy. I don’t think I want to find out what’s going on in there.

Still one has to admire the district’s firm resolve to make damn sure we get sufficient training.  One might have to admire it, but I’m not sure who that one is.  No one can say we weren’t trained now!  They might say we’re exhausted, tense, hollow-eyed, insulted, demeaned and insulted again, but they can never say we weren’t trained!

You know what I’d like to see, though?  Training that’s practical and actually helpful.  A big problem in the education world is to give training that’s predicated on being in the “ideal situation.”  The ideal situation is kids who are calm, compliant, and who actually are interested in what you have to teach them.  Maybe someday I’ll teach those kids from “Village of the Damned,” but no luck yet.  Fingers crossed!

We’ve had plenty of training and been given tips that don’t make sense in the real world, like “make sure none of your kids are putting their heads down on their desks.”   I can see why that’s important, particularly in a violent school, where discipline is minimal and the administration isn’t going to back me up on anything.  Waking up a kid is vital, otherwise the classroom will descend into animal madness and the students will probably be peeing in corners.  To be honest, if that kid sleeps, he’ll be quiet and less likely to bother the rest of the class.  Maybe someone can learn then.  Plus, tapping a tired kid on the shoulder repeatedly to wake him up just doesn’t turn out well.

People called “instructional specialists” (“Instructionalizing the criminals of tomorrow, today!  In your classroom.”) prefer that we use “strategies” to engage the kids.  Another word for these strategies is “gimmicks,” because that’s what they are, ways to distract the kids from the fact that they might be learning.  Think-pair-share, gallery walks, KWL charts, making foldables – these are all things that I can’t imagine asking my students to do with a straight face.  I don’t like doing them, because I feel that I’m being patronized when I do.  If I want to patronize my students, I don’t need a gimmick to do it, anyway.  Foldables will end up on the floor, the K-W-L charts are usually left blank or have “IDK” in one of the columns.  A gallery walk would be disastrous, because I already know what lovely images I’m going to find drawn on sheets of paper hanging on the walls. 
Another part of training that baffles me is learning from someone who has never used the techniques or programs they want us to use.  Here I’m thinking specifically of anyone who wants me to put kids in small groups that rotate.  I’ve noticed that when you ask them how you’re supposed to control the classroom while you’re working with one group, they say vague things like, “Well, you’ll train them.”  What a novel concept!  I thought they’d just feel it in the air and comply.  When I pushed and asked how it worked in one facilitator’s class, she admitted that she’d never used this particular technique/program when she taught.  I’ll call that “theoretical training for a theoretical classroom, presented by theoretical trainers.”  I bet they get paid more than I do, too, theoretically.  

I decided to look over the session names again for Monday.  I like this one, a session called “Make it Personal.”  I do a great job with that, particularly when I have to write comments on essays.  Come to think of it, maybe I should make it less personal.

I’m sure one of you reading this is thinking, “This teacher is what’s wrong with schools today.  See?  She doesn’t care, and she doesn’t WANT to learn or improve!” Well, all I can say to you is, why don’t you think-pair-share with someone who cares.