Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Summer Teacher Training Seminar

Every summer my husband has at least one teacher training seminar to attend. One of them was great. Most of them are boring. This year he got the Teacher Training Seminar From Hell.

There were three levels of informants at the seminar. The book that he was given, the presenter, and the MSDOE representative. Each of the three informants said completely different things. To be fair, I don't think the DOE rep. got the seminar he thought he was providing.

What the book said: "We are the Borg. You will assimilate. Resistance is futile."

Unfortunately the writer wasn't that succinct. Instead he wrote: "You work in a crappy place. There is nothing you can do to make substantive improvements. You can't do anything to make your workplace more safe, more fair, or even more legal. But hey, you can make it more productive! You can do that by being happy all the time, in spite of working in a crappy environment. If you micro-manage your emotions and spend an enormous amount of energy staying in complete control of your feelings every second of the workday you can make your workplace a more fun experience for the people around you. It won't be solve a single one of the structural problems which are bringing this workplace down upon your ears, but you and your coworkers will be more productive, and that's all that counts!"

While I don't completely agree with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, he got it mostly right. It's awful hard to "don't worry, be happy" when, for example, the funds entrusted to a teacher to provide for their classroom mysteriously disappears after the first two weeks, there's a hole in the ceiling that lets in rainwater which has rotted out 1/4 of a second-story early elementary classroom's floor, raw sewage seeps out of the restroom and perfumes the air, and the principal refuses to discipline students sent to the office for fighting and sexual harassment. Some things are worth bursting a blood vessel over.

When we were growing up in the 80s, the message we heard from the adults around us was, "Do what you love and the money will follow." This came from such New-Agey, fluff-bunny impractical types as the Dean of the College of Engineering at MSU and several millionaires next door. As the Dean of Engineering put it, "If you do what you love, you'll get really good at it. Somebody out there will notice and compensate you for it. It may not be the employer you have right now, but there's somebody out there who is willing to compensate you what you deserve for passion, skill, and experience." In spite of the "recessions" that's been going on for most of my life, I have to say that this advise is generally true. It might be awfully hard to find that somebody, and the compensation might not always take the form you expect, but it works out over the long run.

But the message from this book was 100% passion-free. "You're doing cruddy work for cruddy pay at a cruddy workplace. There's no chance of any of that ever improving. You will always be working for terrible bosses for miserable wages at dangerous worksites. Accept your fate. Be happy!" Not only is it a complete downer, that mantra comes perilously close to being a state endorsement of a religious message.

What the presenter said: "Micro-management is fun!"

State tests: "You are supposed to spend 100% of your time preparing your students for your state's test. Anything else is treason. Your students can't be allowed to think about anything else while they are at school. Even 6yos should not be allowed to ask questions or bring up any issue that is not on the state test."

Identifying troublesome students: "The child who has made trouble and been disciplined is no longer a problem in the classroom. They have been disciplined already, so they will not make trouble again. The REAL troublemaker is the quiet child reading a book in the back of the classroom while everyone else is finishing their assignment. There is the viper in your midst! That child incites trouble because he is not doing what you told him to do. It doesn't matter if he's already finished, he still shouldn't be reading. He should be going over his work again and again!"

Obedience: "Your students must obey you instantly. When you tell a child to stop reading a book, he should not take the time to read another word. Letting him finish the page is a sign of weakness. When you tell a child to stop writing, do not let him complete his sentence. That is a sign of rebellion on his part."

Discipline: "Keep your problem students in your classroom. Handle them by yourself. Don't send them to the office. The principal doesn't want to know about your problems."

Closure: "Always plan more for the day than you can possibly complete in the time you have available. The student must never, ever experience the satisfaction of successfully completing anything. Above all else, never, ever give them as much as a second to rest, think and regain their balance."

What my husband said: After a few days of this nonsense, he raised his hand and asked, "Excuse me, but there have been times when following that model would have cost me students. Once I had a teenager who came in on a test day in a state of total shock. Her mother had kicked her out of her house the night before. She had no car, no phone, hadn't been able to find anyone to stay the night with, and wound up sleeping on the sidewalk. The only reason she was at school at all was because it was the only part of her routine that she could cling to right then. I told her to not worry about the test, go put her head down on a back desk and rest, she could make it up in a few days when things had settled down. If I had put the slightest pressure on her that day, she would have quit school altogether. She was that close."

Presenter: "Uh that's good, but she should have taken the test".

Other teacher: "I can't afford to find out that much about my students' personal business."

DOE representative, glaring: "He did the right thing. That's exactly the kind of response we want to see from our teachers."

Presenter: "Uh, yeah. Let's move on to the next subject so we can get through early for lunch."

What the DOE rep said: The DOE representative talked the presenter into leaving early, then turned to the teachers and said, "Ignore all that. We're just trying to make the schools healthier. We want to get the soda and candy machines out of the hallways. We want to make sure the kids eat good food and get plenty of exercise. We would like to encourage them to eat supper with their parents so they don't get into social trouble, but who eats with their children anymore? I don't even eat with my second-grader more than twice a year! We eat takeout and they get theirs when they show up at the table. What good can we do?"

(Gee, our kids don't eat meals with us only when they're away on sleepovers.)

It was a very surreal and stressful week. I think you can understand why my husband was decompressing with massive doses of Doctor Who every night. "Even the Daleks are sensible compared to those people. All Daleks want to do is kill you. They usually don't bother messing up children's heads!"

Update - Presenter: "Reading non-assigned books is forbidden! Students should only read books they are assigned and will be tested on!"


Stephanie in TX said...

1) I once had a teacher give me a D. In Reading. Because I was always sitting there, reading some book other than the assigned textbook chapter. I was always DONE with the assigned textbook chapter, but that didn't matter. Turned out she gave me an F every day I read a book in class. After my work was done. Quietly.

2) I got almost through my teaching degree. I was going to teach secondary English. But one day, the teacher decided to make something plain to us: we were not there to teach a *subject*. If we were there to teach a subject, we should think again. No, we were there to teach *children.* And apparently teaching *children* meant that your paperwork should always be complete, and if you sat down and shut up and didn't make waves, all would be well.

Your husband is a much stronger person than I. I knew right then that I was not cut out to be a PS teacher. Kudos to him for trying.

Lioness said...

He'll be the first to tell you this wasn't Plan A.

Rowan Falar said...

Oh my dear sweet goddess! That is APPALLING. Everytime I ever waver in my decision to homeschool, I read something like this. It's a crime to read? You're a troublemaker if you do your assigned work and then do something quiet instead of disturbing the class with your boredom?

I was the same way in school as Stephanie. Luckily I had some very understanding teachers, who knew that I didn't pick up a book until my work was done. Sheesh.

Unique said...

Isn't it weird?

I got an 'A' in history for the same reason Stephanie got a 'D'.

And I didn't even do the homework.

A - mazing.

Ravin said...

I have a friend who teaches high school English. With her brighter students, she has little choice but to have them sit in the back and read or nap, because she's busy remediating the rest of the class on things they should have learned years before, for the standardized exams.

That presenter sounds like Principal Schnider on Buffy the Vampire Slayer