The Need for Meaningful Professional Development

Whenever I attend professional development sessions at my school I feel like I am either wasting away my life, serving a mandatory bid of servitude, or dying a very slow and tortuous death. Amongst the various thoughts that pass through my mind as I earnestly try to distract myself while appearing as though I am paying attention, is a thought that visits about every five minutes: we teachers need better profession development opportunities. It's nothing against the professional in or outside my building or other facilitators. They're nice people. But just as folks point out that nice people don't necessarily make for great teachers, let me say that neither do they make for great facilitators and/or developers of meaningful professional development.

Professional development days a.k.a. in-service days a.k.a. team-building days ... quite frankly, they suck for me; they are boring and a major waste of my time -- equally for those who are told to lead them and for the teachers who are required to sit and listen. I am not sure if those in command of designing and facilitating them care to do it, or are actually that far removed from the profession that they have no idea what is relevant. Maybe the leaders of professional development need professional development on how to do professional development.

My experiences are not indicative of every teacher's encounter with a professional development session at their school, but I doubt that I am the only teacher who feels the way I do. I also understand that those who are asked to put these sessions together have a lot of other work to complete, deadlines to make and oftentimes, the buck has been passed to them because someone else didn't want the responsibility. I get that ... but so what? No matter what circumstances of stress or duress teachers are put under, we are expected to get students to perform. As a teacher, I expect no different of school leaders; a part of their job is to assist me in becoming a better teacher.

Professional development is not instructing me on changes in standardized testing and what those test are looking for... that is a faculty meeting. Professional development is not conning me into thinking I am being asked to assist with the creation of teacher orientation procedures ... that is the job of an administrator who, with the help of a five teacher taskforce, could flush such procedures out. Professional development is not an allotted time for teachers and administrators to vent ... that is a therapy session. None of these things helped me become a better teacher throughout the school year. With that being said, in case anyone is interested, here is my simple suggestion on what would make for meaningful professional development for teachers: choose topics that are relevant regarding (1) who we teach, (2) what we teach, (3) how we teach, and (4) why we teach.

In order to grow in the profession we (teachers) need to recognize and understand our population, our content area, our delivery and our purpose. Teachers need to know their students; they need to know their likes and dislikes as a group; they need to know culture, tendencies, influences, habits and some idea of their upbringing/home life. How else are we to reach them? We all don't have the most fabulous of personalities. Teachers need to understand what they teach; if you don't know your content area, how do you expect your own students to learn it from you? We teachers have to eat, sleep and snore our specified content area. We've got to love it and that means continuing to learn more. Along with that, we need to understand how to teach it or deliver the content.

If I order pizza from a local pizzeria, they know not to deliver my pizza in a trash can lid. They bring it to my house in a box designed to carry my pizza while maintaining its heat. When teachers teach, we must teach the content in a way that is savory and deliciously prepared for students. Too many of us fail to "season" our lessons. We've got kids throwing up our lessons, rejecting our lessons or seeking the cooking of another teacher chef. With teaching, there is always room for instructional growth.

Lastly, we've got to realize our purpose in teaching students. That purpose is not to get a paycheck, it's not to lord over a group we assume to have power over, and it is not to take ourselves too seriously. Simply put, our purpose is to transform lives and break cycles; our purpose is to create lifelong learners and make our world a better place; our purpose is to plant a seed the mind of a young person and pass it off to another teacher to water it and so forth until the bud sprouts into something breathtakingly beautiful. Professional development can get us excited about doing that.

As a professional, I want to grow; I want to get better. I don't want to daydream about what I could be doing when I should be doing professional development. I am not asking for a doctoral program. I am simply looking for something that I can implement the next day and the days after that. I am looking for an honest dialogue on issues of teaching and learning and ways to be more effective in the classroom. I want to learn ... I want to improve ... I want instruction and direction. Unfortunately, many times I feel like I am given that pizzeria pizza on a trash can lid. One day I hope to get that pizza with the freshest ingredients and made with care. Right now, I'll settle for one slice on a paper plate.