As the new school year approaches, I find myself cringing… not at the thought of classes full of teenagers; I love my kids. Not at “having” to plan and present lessons; this summer I have found some great ideas that I’m excited to try out. No, I cringe at the thought of inservice meetings. It is as if these sessions are designed to crush whatever enthusiasm for our work a restful summer might have instilled in teachers. Now, I’m not talking about the quick reiteration of rules and policies that starts each year. The soul-sucking meetings I dread are the ones purportedly designed to help us teach better.
Teachers reading this already feel my pain, but for those of you who have never
suffered experienced inservice, I’m going to give you a picture of a typical session. First, these sessions are generally not broken up by discipline; often they are not divided by grade-level. This is frustrating because techniques presented for second grade have never had any practical use to me as a high school teacher. I went to one inservice “training” in which we –I am not making this up– made telescopes from the cardboard cylinder at the core of a roll of toilet paper and played with Legos. Now, I like Legos; they are fine toys, but their relevance to my teaching high school English was non-existent. (I don’t remember what the point of these exercises was supposed to be, so obviously it had no long-lasting effect– other than to vindicate my disdain for such activities.)
What’s Your Sign?
At another inservice, we all learned what “color” we were. (I’m a Gold, meaning that Oranges are going to get on my nerves; at least that’s what I took away from this. I’m also a Libra, and I don’t know how that’s going to affect my teaching either.) The validity of the color personality theory is questionable, but even I allow it some, it designed for learning how to cooperate with one’s co-workers to “leverage individuals’ distinct skillsets to form a cohesive unit,” or something like that. It is less applicable in working with classes of students whose colors you don’t know. We spent all day learning about our colors : We made posters with colored markers, mixing in groups of both same and different colors to compare results. I can sum up the probable point of this inservice in two sentences: Teachers have distinct personalities and styles as do students. Of course, I wouldn’t make $20,000 a pop presenting this clear and succinct truth: It’s just not flashy enough. Nor would I be able to market books, mugs, T-shirts, and full theatrical performances to
suckers administrators and executives around the world. It is important for teachers to keep varied learning styles in mind and to adjust teaching methods to appeal to differing student learning styles as much a possible. This should not be an epiphany to any teacher. We never discussed this overtly, the presenters not being experts in education. We never discussed how we would apply the “color theory” to our teaching. It was just a day. As an uptight Gold, I was ready to peel my skin off at the waste of time.
So, What Would I Do?
Inservice is not a bad concept. I have attended some useful inservice meetings. This summer, I went to a workshop with training on using Google’s suite of Education tools. One reason it was useful is that I chose it to fill a specific need I had. To make inservice useful, individual teachers need to find tasks that meet their individual needs. Our inservice guidelines specifically state that personal, independent study is not applicable for inservice credit.
Why not? Well, part of this goes back to the fact that teachers are not accorded respect as professionals. Check out my article on whether or not teaching is a real profession here. We aren’t trusted to select meaningful training for ourselves. Sadly, not everyone is worthy of this freedom. This means that administrators will have to interactively monitor these individual pursuits and award credit when it is of genuine worth.
A teacher could present a proposal for a course of study, indicating what direct impact it will have on student learning; at the end of the course, said teacher would present his or her findings to the principal– or ideally in a PLC (professional learning community) meeting as proof the learning was accomplished. For example, if a teacher has never had an online classroom sets up one, this teacher could get inservice credit. Having set one up myself, I know that this takes far more hours than would be traditionally required in inservice, and most importantly, it directly benefited my students.
Starting my blog has been a very valuable experience to me as a teacher. In striving to do something I’ve never done before, I think I am getting a picture of how my students feel when I introduce new concepts to them. I will be able to empathize more with their frustration when they just don’t get something. I believe all teachers should try to learn something outside their comfort zones to help us better experience the educational experience through our students’ eyes.
If you’re a teacher, have you attended any especially good inservice trainings? Are most of your inservice meetings run by extras from The Walking Dead? What are staff meetings like in the rest of the professional world?