Fear and Loathing in Professional Development

This is a bit of a rant, so I apologize in advance. However, it is not all negative. Let me start with this disclaimer: I actually enjoy (most) professional development  opportunities…hell, I sign up for some I am not even required to take! Summer is a great time to get this out of the way. We even get a stipend, on occasion. And I actually enjoy exchanging ideas and learning new things with like-minded colleagues.

The issue I am going to discuss is more about “professional relationships”.

I am a naturally private person. But, like most people, I want to be liked, or at least shown a little respect. It is difficult for me to put myself in social situations, and pretend to be anything other than myself. Despite the “norms” of a professional development gathering, when teachers get together  in one space for more than a few hours, hackles go up over the most trivial things. Now, multiply those few hours by four days, and you will totally understand the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”.

The human ego is a very fragile thing. I admit that my ego gets ruffled and takes quite a beating on a regular basis. Part of this is because I am a sensitive person, with a tendency to be critical of myself, and sometimes others. I have learned over the years to swallow my pride, and filter my feelings, especially when I think someone is full of shit.

Teachers are notorious for seeking approval and getting on a soapbox. Sometimes I think they are one step away from a career change to politics or acting (and some actually do go there). We all have something to say about something, and we all have years of experience and ideas we are eager to share. At least most of us.

At the most recent PD symposium I attended this past week, which was specifically for ELD and Bilingual educators, we were called “experts” in our field, but we were also expected to listen and learn. Teachers are sometimes not the best of students. They can be found sitting in little cliques, often only associating with those of their preferred social group: Same school, same race, same language. Often, they will be seen chatting and basically ignoring presenters, or worse, they will interrupt with a personal anecdote that is only marginally related to the discussion.

This is to be expected, I suppose. I have found myself wanting to share my personal thoughts on a method or issue of education, and my hand will shoot up, just like it used to when I was in public school. I am not one for attention seeking, as a rule, but when I have a burning question or think I have the answer, I am on it.

This tendency I have is met with mixed reactions. Mostly I get to say my piece, and I am encouraged and acknowledged. Sometimes, I am rebuffed or even ignored. I can take it with some dignity. Now, sit me at a table of individuals with whom I have only a passing acquaintance, and things begin to get uncomfortable. Especially when they start judging you. And you them.

I will cut you Uni

At first, they appear welcoming. They save you a seat at the table. They ask questions about your work, and tell you a bit about themselves. It’s all very cordial and amicable. They invite you to sit with them at lunch break. They ask you what you think about a topic. Everything seems smooth.

Then, as the hours and days drag on, they start to show another side. Personal agendas, attitudes and pet peeves work their way into the conversations. They say things like this:

“I thought you were mad at me when you made that comment” (when maybe you are just hot, tired, or distracted, and give terse responses), or “You really like to jabber don’t you?” (when you deign to volunteer to answer questions for the group), or “You seem competitive!” (when you are supposed to be working on something together). Soon, you begin to doubt yourself, feel self-conscious, and slowly  withdraw.

You look for any excuse to get away from them. Take a restroom break. Get up to stretch at the back of the room. When on break, you seek out other people who seem open and friendly, or alternately sit alone outside under a tree.

Sound familiar? It’s just a typical summer PD that has gone on for too many hours and days, and everyone’s wheels start spinning. Until it is almost out of control, and no one remembers why they even signed up.

Suddenly, it ends. You pack your crap up, say rushed goodbyes, and if cornered, make somewhat insincere attempts at heartfelt farewells and reconciliation. Meanwhile, you are screaming “Get me the hell outta here!” in your brain.

Looking back at the experience, you might believe you would have been just as well informed if they had actually handed you the binder of reading and instructional materials, so you could peruse them at your leisure at home, instead.

After all, you still have about a month left of vacation. Sheesh!

Go to Hell




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