(Warning: Lots of scare quotes ahead.)
I hate being out of my classroom for “in-services,” “trainings,” “workshops,” or “classes,” especially the district mandated/sponsored ones. You know the kind, where they read powerpoint slides to you, you do “jigsaw” activities (gawd, I hate those), share with your 3 o’clock partner, and get a bunch of handouts that end up doodled all over and chucked onto the giant pile next to your desk to be forgotten for two months, when you’re supposed to have done something with those papers for a “follow-up session.” And not a lick of it makes it into the classroom or helps your teaching.
This is not to say that I haven’t been to a few effective workshops. But usually these end up being useful not for the “activities” we did, but for the ideas and examples of the presenter. Kate Kinsella comes to mind. If she’s giving the workshop on teaching writing, go to it. I’ve stolen all sorts of stuff from her.
However, my experience with the standard, district-issued workshops is that the cost/benefit analysis usually doesn’t come out in favor of attending. The ones they’ve been pushing lately, about EL techniques and such, have seemed especially forced; since our district is out of compliance with our EL test scores (they haven’t been improving), the solution is to give workshops! I think it might be one of the measures that take hold when you’re on this kind of list. District admin, since August (!?), has been “offering” EL workshops to English and social studies teachers, district wide. Since I already found it silly that their CTEL workshops were taught by people who hadn’t taken the test, and I just finished with the book and the test about all this shtuff, I took a pass.
Well, it turns out it wasn’t an offer. It was an order. After I skipped the one in August, I got an e-mail saying I was supposed to attend the second session in September. At that point, we were just beginning The Outsiders, I was at a critical point in what we were doing, and I just, well, didn’t go.
Then I get a little letter in my box (so old school) saying that I was supposed tag along with the social studies teachers for their version on such and such date. No dice.
Finally a week or two ago I, along with two other recalcitrant scofflaws, got an e-mail reminding me that I should have already booked a sub for the last makeup session, scheduled just for us. D’oh. I had been trying to forget that.
The day before the appointed time, my VP comes into my last period of the day, and wants to chat with me for a moment. The head of curriculum and instruction had just called him.
“Well it looks like the other two people who were supposed to go to the workshop can’t make it, so it’s down to you. She says you have two choices: you can come on up and she’ll do the workshop one on one…”
“Ummm, no…” (How could we jigsaw?)
“The other choice is that she’ll come down tomorrow and observe you for the afternoon, and then you could chat after for about 15 minutes.”
“I’ll take door number two.”
“You can cancel your sub for tomorrow then.”
“I wasn’t planning on going; I hadn’t called for one.”
Luckily he laughed. I wasn’t joking.
The next day sure enough, there she was. She observed and took notes and “shadowed” the few EL kids I have, recording what they did and how they participated. She stayed for two full periods.
Then we sat and chatted about what she saw and activities and strategies I could pretty easily incorporate in order to better help those EL kids we’re trying to focus on. In short, it actually pretty useful. I got waaaay more out of it than I would have at some half-day workshop grudgingly attended. And I didn’t have to leave my classroom. Nice.
By being sort of passive-aggressive about this whole thing, I got special treatment. Seventh grader with a badge once again.
So I had this idea. What if all our workshops worked this way? You are much more likely to use new techniques if you’re learning about them in context. You’re obviously much more likely to attend if you don’t have to leave your classroom. They get to see that you actually know a bit about what you’re doing. And you don’t have to do “pair-share.”
The response to my suggestion was surprisingly receptive, “That may be a viable option.”
OMG. More soon. This one’s already gone long.