Teachers are the Worst Students

Most professional development for teachers is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be.

I’ll be welcoming students into my classroom in five short calendar days — three even shorter business days. Like so many of my colleagues, I’m teaching multiple preps this year. I have three different classes to prepare. Only one of them is new, but the other two are being substantially revised (again!). Yet, like so many teachers across the country in August, I won’t be spending today organizing my classroom, structuring material in our online learning management system, or collaboratively planning with my content team.

  1. Professional development must start by presuming professional competence.
    Teachers are professionals. We have extensive training and are highly educated. We are also practitioners, honing our craft through hours and hours and hours of actual teaching. When the content, tone, or facilitators of PD fail to begin from a premise of professional competence, the audience of teachers will be lost. We have a great store of knowledge that is rarely harnessed or even assessed by standard district PD offerings. Effective PD respects the competence, curiosity, and experience of teachers.
  2. Professional development must come at an appropriate time.
    It is unreasonable to expect teachers to remain fully engaged in PD just a few days prior to the start of the school year. Even if teachers did leave the PD with the expected take-aways, there would not be sufficient time to integrate those take-aways for the imminent academic year. Teachers must constantly operate on multiple time scales: crafting long-term pacing guides, building instructional arcs, piecing together daily lesson plans. When teachers have so many pressing immediate demands — like getting a classroom organized, making copies for the first week, or finalizing a syllabus — there is no bandwidth remaining for spending a full day on lofty, big-picture discussions. We understand that those things are important, but is T-minus three days really the time?
  3. Professional development must address actual needs.
    Teachers and students have many needs. Standard district PD often fails to meet any needs, perhaps in part because teachers are rarely authentically invited into the planning and facilitation conversation. We often walk away from PD with nothing that we can immediately use in our classrooms — or with something that we are expected to use that we have no interest in using. Teachers are expected to accomplish a lot of high-quality work with scarce resources, and spending hours of our precious time in sessions that are not relevant to our most urgent needs can feel especially insulting.
  4. Professional development must be coherent.
    From the perspective of classroom teachers, schools and districts often seem to hop from initiative to initiative, from curriculum framework to curriculum framework. Sometimes, this means that our back to school PD feels like completely starting from scratch after spending two or three years working within a particular framework. At other times, we might be engaged in work that feels meaningful to us only to then be derailed or redirected.
  5. Professional development should be professional development.
    Much of what teachers find frustrating is called “professional development” but does not actually engage us as professionals. Meetings during which we are provided with administrative directives or standardized testing calendars are not professional development. By calling those meetings PD, we devalue actual professional learning.
  6. Professional development should be teacher-led.
    Although administrations seem to be receiving the message that “bottom-up” teacher-led professional development is important, it still isn’t the most common approach. What seems to have become common is to have administrators or other district leaders provide a teacher (or team of teachers) with objectives and materials and ask that teacher to lead the PD. While there is a teacher in front of the room, this is hardly teacher-led: it doesn’t elicit teachers’ needs or harness teachers’ knowledge.
  7. Professional development should model effective instruction
    Asking teachers to sit for an hour or longer while a someone lectures them about relevance, engagement, and student-centered instruction is absurd. We appreciate the importance of those ideas — and because we are professionals, we know that a long lecture is not the most effective way to engage an audience or build an understanding.

Citation

Franckowiak, B. (2016). Teachers are the worst students. Kaleidoscope: Educator Voices and Perspectives, 3(1), 11–14.

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Knowles Teacher Initiative

Knowles Teacher Initiative

The Knowles Teacher Initiative supports the efforts of high school mathematics and science teachers to improve education in their classrooms and beyond​.