You took the words right out of my mouth

This is a blog post written by a teacher in Virginia about PD (Professional Development) sessions on his blog Stop Trying to Inspire Me. Such simple points, but really, totally valid. 
I'm sorry to say, it is rare to have a valuable PD Day. With all the money spent on these days, you'd think we'd be asked what we'd like to focus on so that we could actually LEARN something and take it back to the classroom and apply it, but no.
The way it works is, usually information is dumped on us, we play a stupid game involving sticky notes or a Venn Diagram and then one person in each group has to present to the rest of the audience. I'd really rather be teaching a really badly behaved bunch of kids than doing that. I've presented at a couple of conferences, and not to say that I am a good presenter, but when planning my spiel, I always try to think if what I am saying is useful and applicable. Anyway, I could go on and go, but I will save it for another time. For now, read Tom's post below and share your comments on PD sessions.

Some advice to those professional development "experts"

Oh, hi.  So you've been asked to be the speaker at our next district-mandated professional-development day?  Greetings and salutations.

Now, I have to say that I feel for you a little bit.  After all, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes, walking into an auditorium full of a few hundred people, most of whom heard that you were coming to speak to us and immediately groaned, complained that your speaking fee is probably as much as they make in one year, and may have even emailed an administrator to voice their concerns about thousands of dollars spent on guest speakers when the building doesn't have a working photocopier or heat.  You're in front of a crowd that is either going to be completely passive or openly hostile; considering we're all professionals and our bosses are in the room, probably the former.

So your job is hard.  Oh sure, there's going to be someone who sits front and center, nods with great interest at all of your points, laughs at all of your attempts at jokes, and strikes up a lengthy conversation with you at intermission (one you will undoubtedly mention after intermission).  But you and I both know that he or she isn't the person you are trying to "reach" during this session.  The person you're trying to "reach" during this session is sitting all the way in the back, hoping he can spend the next few hours grading papers, and thinks that person in the front and center is a total kissass who needs to die in a fire.

As that person in the back, I thought I would take the time to help you out here.  Oh yes, I can hear you now.  I'm not willing to change or accept new ways of thinking or be innovative or whatever you want to call it.  I'm a luddite.  I'm part of the problem.  My attitude is disrespectful.  You hope I die in a fire.  I've heard all of that.  But I do think that a few words of advice might do you some good because I'm not the only person who walks around with a grumpy attitude toward professional development.  Bad speaker after bad speaker and worthless session after worthless session has completely tainted my view of who you are, which I know isn't open-minded or even nice, but come on, it's human nature.

Anyway, here's some pointers:

1. Your credentials are nice, but please stop talking about them.  I'm glad you got your bachelor's from The School of Hard Knocks, a Master's from Real World College, and a Ph.D. from Whatsamatta U, and I do respect that; however, if my principal or superintendent mentioned that when introducing you, I don't think I need to hear about it again.  And again.  And again.  You know what those degrees are?  They're a nice set of tits, and if you want a relationship you're going to have to get me to see past them.

2. I don't need your life story.  Oh, background is great, especially when you are using your own experience to inform the topic at hand ... but please don't spend 90 minutes of a two-hour session giving me your life story.  Furthermore, I really don't care how many years you taught and how many years you worked with teachers.  Yes, it's great that it all adds up to 40 years of experience, but there are some people in your audience who have that experience or more.  If I simply wanted the advice of a veteran educator, I'd talk to htem.  Or I'd call my father, who taught for 35 years.  None of them will cost me your speaking fee.

3. Please don't assume I suck.  You know how you start trotting out examples of the bad teachers you've encountered in your travels and tell stories of all their bad methods and how you're going to help us correct those problems?  I, and many of the people in your audience, are thinking the following: "But I don't do that.  But I don't do that.  But I don't do that.  But I don't do that."  And that's how we think it, as if it's a broken record playing until you stop.  Please, when you are hired to come speak, do some research that goes beyond knowing the school's name or asking the superintendent for a copy of our test scores.  Contact some teachers.  Sure, you might get the aforementioned kissasses, but we can see a canned presentation coming from a mile away.

Furthermore, do your research to find out what we DO so that I also don't see all of your examples and think: "I already do that. I already do that.  I already do that."

4. I know you taught in 1968, but I wasn't even born then, so stop talking about it.  No, really.  Do you have any examples of bad teaching from before Watergate?  If so, please use them.  My younger colleagues and I are feeling like this is a waste of our time.

5. If you are using PowerPoint, please make sure we can read your slides.  Black 20-point Times New Roman on a screen that has a lot of glare is giving me a headache and I, along with half the people in here, are now thinking that we could make a more readable presentation in the time it takes to change classes.

6. Oh, and don't just get up in front of us and read your PowerPoint.  

7. Identify real problems and please work with us to figure out real solutions.  You know, how about asking us to break out into groups to tackle a problem we see and then use your much-talked-about expertise to think up a different approach to a solution?  It's much better than you standing up in front of us and giving us a one-size-fits-all solution (especially considering that you have K-12 educators in the room and what works in K won't work in 12).

8. Let us have breakout sessions that last for longer than a few minutes.  Let me tell you something I've noticed in my classroom: whenever we do group work, I notice that the first few minutes of said group work is spent gossiping, socializing, and sometimes fooling around.  Always.  I've developed this approach:  instead of telling people to get on task, I let this happen and give a little more time than I intended.  Why?  Because eventually, most people will turn their attention to the task at hand.  Sure, there are individuals who won't and will do nothing but disrupt the situation, but I can deal with them individually instead of getting frustrated with a whole class.

Now, when you break us into groups, you have to account for the fact that at least the first five minutes of that breakout is going to be a bitch session.  It always happens.  We love to complain.  Let that happen.  Let it happen and give us more time than you think we need because I have found that if we have enough time, we WILL get to the task at hand and it's when our time is limited that we pay lip service to whatever you're trying to get us to do.  Yes, it might take up more time and you won't be able to talk as much, but it'll get us engaged, right?

9. Start a discussion in the session.  No, really.  If there are 200 people in the room, set up a couple of mics in the aisles and start a town hall.  There are things we want to say to you but you're too busy blabbering on and as a result we're too busy tuning out.  Get a back and forth going.  It makes the classes I teach more enjoyable when we've got a good conversation going, why wouldn't it make for a good in-service?

10. Ask for feedback.  I cannot tell you how many times I have left an in-service and never saw a comment card or a link to a survey or anything that would suggest that you care about how I felt about your presentation.  Am I not your student?  Should you not care about my opinion?  Would it not make me stop writing blog posts like this?

So yeah, it's just a few words of advice.  See you next in-service day.

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