Saturday, April 18, 2015

My development as a professional is lacking

“It’s once again our favorite time of the year, professional development time!  Here’s hoping that today’s training turns you into a mean, lean, teaching machine, instead of the lazy, uninspired sacks of crap that you are.”

Today’s topic is professional development or PD, our letter P in the A-Z blog challenge, and I assume the above is what the school district thinks when scheduling it.  Professional development is supposed to be the time where educators learn to be better educators.  Teachers sit in a session and run through various learning exercises, designed to help us be more effective in the classroom. 

During professional development, you’re supposed to act, you know, professional.  Sometimes that happens.  More often, though, we talk to our friends, play on our phones, or basically do all the things we don’t want the students to do when we teach.  I like to think that in this way, we’re giving the facilitator the same experience we can expect in the classroom so that he or she can show us how to make these new teaching techniques REALLY WORK!!

My last PD session was a barrel of fun.  The facilitator, who I assume was forced to oversee this session by the district (I only say that because she simultaneously smiled and gritted her teeth for the entire hour), tried to teach us about anchor charts.  

For those of you who don’t know what an anchor chart is, get in line.  I still don’t know, even after an hour of professional development on the subject.  The facilitator said a lot of things, but never defined the subject.  What I heard were phrases like “vehicle for academic support,” “helping visual learners,” and “the district is requiring this.”

We were told we had to create the anchor charts to put up in our classrooms during the session, even though this same training emphasized that our anchor charts were supposed to be specific to the content we taught and were designed to be used by core classes, like English, math, science and history.  I’m none of those.  I sat between a Spanish teacher and algebra teacher wondering why I was even there. They cursed quietly. 

All three of us drew a three-story house on a piece of poster board based on an example from the overhead projector.  (If you’re wishing I’d provided a better transition from the last paragraph to this one, I can’t help you; I wasn’t really paying attention at the time. I have no idea how we got to drawing houses on poster board).  My house leaned precariously to the right, because I couldn’t see the screen from where I sat, so I tried to copy off my neighbor.    

“This,” the facilitator sing-songed, referring to the image on the overhead projector, “is what the district wants to see up in your rooms.  It will be part of your evaluation, so the anchor chart must be displayed.”

An overachiever at my table was making a beautiful house with labeled levels, people inside and trees and flowers outside.  Algebra, Spanish and I muttered “suckup” to each other.  The overachiever then raised her hand and said, “Excuse me, are you saying that this is what we need to display in class?”

The facilitator nodded.  Overachiever said, “But these all look the same. Shouldn’t mine be specific to my class?”

The facilitator blinked a few times. “Well, you see, this is a start, and you’ll…“  From there she kind of trailed off.  I saw her walk over to one of our administrators. They whispered furiously. It seemed obvious that someone hadn’t really thought this session through.  

Overachiever tried again.  “I thought these were supposed to be co-created with students.  Isn’t that what you said?”

The facilitator blinked a few more times and then ignored her.  She called out, “Five more minutes.  Complete your chart.” 

Algebra turned to me and told me I had the worst handwriting he’d ever seen, so I grabbed a purple marker and scribbled on his house. “Display THAT, math boy,” I said.  “Then your evaluator can wonder if you’re mentally challenged or just can’t draw.”  He reached over and ripped a chunk off the side of my chart. 

I turned to Spanish.  “Mine’s ugly.  Can I have yours?”

Spanish grimaced.  “It sure is.  It looks like a hoarder’s house. ” Someone said the hour was over, so we all jumped up and grabbed our stuff.

I still haven’t seen one of those charts up in anyone’s room.  I dumped mine in the trash when I left to go to lunch, but most people just left theirs on the table.  If my students want to see something that’s co-created and full of illegible writing and crude drawings, they can go to the restroom. 

I came home and Googled “anchor charts.”  This is what I found: “Anchor charts build a culture of literacy in the classroom, as teachers and students make thinking visible by recording content, strategies, processes, cues, and guidelines during the learning process.  Posting anchor charts keeps relevant and current learning accessible to students to remind them of prior learning and to enable them to make connections as new learning happens.  Students refer to the charts and use them as tools as they answer questions, expand ideas, or contribute to discussions and problem-solving in class.”

Sorry, still don’t know what it is. 

At least I’m beginning to understand the point of professional development, which I think is actually for the facilitator, not the attendees.  The facilitator gets to teach using “authentic learning” and “real-world applications” for a group of resentful, critical and disengaged students.