It’s a bike challenge. District-wide PD is at a school close enough to my house that I can pedal there in under 15 minutes. But predictably, I’m still late, and I scoot in near the back corner a little sweaty to an already-begun presentation on writing revision.
The axiom “teachers are the worst students” is proven true every year. There’s a faux TED banner in the front lobby, but there’s one notable difference here: TED bans tech use in the lecture hall. Not here. From my perch in the back, almost everyone has at least one screen going, maybe two. We all think we’ve got lots to do, and could all justify individual work over being here. But the book looks good. It has good resources and ideas. I’m going to try to be good. Try to pay attention. Try to learn something I can use in my classroom.
But the ladies behind me are having a riveting discussion, re-capping word-for-word a conversation someone had in church last week. So, I’ve got the presenter through the left ear and “So I told her…” through the right. The struggle to pay attention has begun.
The presenter is reading a children’s book about Pablo Neruda, while a friend sends me a Sporcle game. I’m drowning. Throw me a life jacket. I’m trying to suppress my snarky urge, but it’s threatening to overwhelm me. I decide that blogging this one out might be my saving grace. If everyone else can multi-task, why can’t I? If this is about writing revision, is blogging about it meta-learning? I grasping for a raft anywhere I can.
9:05: We’re into some pop-neuro-biology: playing music, being nice to your students, lighting candles release dopamine. Think of ways to release dopamine in your classroom. That could get dangerous.
9:10: First clever teaching acronym of the day. Think about the TOE. T is for talk. I’ll tell you about the other toes later. Just stick your toe in the water.
9:15: I give into the Sporcle urge and fail. I can only name one RedSox 3rd Baseman from the last decade. My right ear is a PowerSchool conversation and student gossip. So, at least it’s kind of work. But Little Pablo has been put to bed; there’s some playing with student stereotypes and boilerplate inspiration.
9:20: The waves of cynicism subside as I begin to see some value. I start to get into this. I start seeing how this can fill a need in my classroom. My kids often fall down at revising sentences. I mean…revising sentences often befuddles them. I stop blogging and start using my phone to shoot these seeds of beautiful lessons to my colleagues. This is called “back channeling”. Instead of snarky ways to release dopamine, my brain is creating masterful syntactical mini-lessons.
9:40 Attrition has begun. I see the first person leave with all their gear. In my right ear, somebody’s on Prozac. I think it’s a dog…or at least a child who goes through a bag of food every three weeks. I don’t know. I’ve started closing my right ear to amazing efficacy, and one of my Park homies sends an authoritative “Shh” and stank eye across the bow. The harpies lower their cackles to a grating whisper.
9:50: We have a quiet free write based on a passage the speaker has read. He’s done some neat things with books. I write about invisibility. I’m not sure I can see where I’m going with this, but I let it roll with the current, not looking for a reason to hate this.
10:00: Break 15 minutes. Lots of people pick up all their stuff and swim off under the cover of temporary exodus. I walk and get sunshine. Streams of teachers to the parking lot like rivers to the ocean.
This school has great rain barrels and gardens. I walk around and meet a guy who used to teach with me, now here. Learn lots just by talking for five minutes or so.
10:20ish?: I’m really bad at coming back from break on time. But by the time I dive back in, it’s clear how many people have jumped ship. Thankfully, the harpies behind my backpack are among them. I sit down and we’re re-arranging syntax on our pre-break freewrite. This is a pretty good activity, and I feel like my treading water all day, resisting the urge to bail, to swim away, to hide in a well of sarcasm has been rewarded by some boon. I start recording lesson ideas and collaborating on anti-plagiarism seminars at the same time.
I don’t want to act like I’m walking on water, but the room has become more productive. People volunteer. Somehow, everyone who couldn’t make it through seems to have left, and the people who have bobbed along this long have begun to see some value. This is no small feat. Most teachers see early year PD with a mix of dread and revulsion, and can often react with grudging contempt or outright rebellion. Lots of times, you can’t blame them: presenters often affix new buzzwords to old strategies presenting the new and improved wheel. And in our system, there have been epic fails–the presenter who led off to an auditorium full of English teachers with “we’re not teaching novels ’cause no one reads them” comes to mind.
Teachers aren’t perfect in PD, either. This cynicism–often well-placed–can make us miss some valuable tools as well. Luckily, mine didn’t capsize my boat, and I made it to safe port after all.
11:20: He ends early. No sense in drawing this out. The crowd is generally satisfied. I find some former colleagues and catch up–the only time I see some of them all year. My buddy and I walk out, bullshitting about Ryan Lochte and how his idiocy is likely to drown out his success in the pool. Pedal home. Surprise the dogs. A good morning that included District Wide PD? It’s a miracle.