One of the most frustrating givens of today’s dominant narrative of public schools is that teachers are in need of continuous improvement—and that endless amounts of professional trainings will improve those who can be improved and unmask those who cannot.
What most teachers figure out fairly soon in their careers is that professional development begins to result in diminishing returns after about the 7th year of teaching. You one day are overwhelmed with this sense that you’ve heard this all before—maybe not in the same format, or packaged in the same way, or marketed via the same acronym or by the same mascot—but all the same, you’ve heard it all before.
In my district—a small district without many resources—savvy administrators were successful in procuring a massive federal grant to provide huge amounts of professional development—amounting to almost 8% of our total budget over three years. A company in the American south has been hired to fly consultants across the country to be lodged, dined, and compensated to water parched professionals with the nectar of “best practices”—in this case, reading strategies designed to increase standardized scores on one reading and one math test in high school.
Now, on the one hand, as a local leader I am glad that my members have opportunities to gain clock hours and earn back some of their lost wages due to the legislature’s 1.9% cut in our pay and 6-year suspension of a cost of living adjustment. And perhaps some younger teachers or perhaps some who have transferred to an unfamiliar assignment may benefit from standard strategies renamed and placed in yet another binder that will soon join others on a high shelf in a closet.
In the meantime, my textbooks are 12 years old, our after-school tutor bus has been eliminated, the health-impaired student population continues to rise while no additional nurses are hired, librarian and counselor positions are eliminated, and special education is woefully underfunded.
If you Google “recipes for SPAM” you will quickly find hundreds of ways to serve the “precooked meat product” first introduced in 1937—black pepper SPAM fried rice, SPAM mesubi, jalapeno SPAM quesadillas, huevos SPAM cheros, and it goes on and on. But what it finally comes down to is you’re eating SPAM.
Same with most professional development.
Part of the new evaluation system is a heavy reliance on more and more professional development—the idea being that something is wrong with teachers that is causing students to fail and that if we can finally fix those teachers who are fixable and chase those who are not from the teaching ranks, students will finally succeed.
I don’t believe that. I believe that teachers know how to teach and teach well every single day.
I would very much like my state organization to finally and unequivocally say when they see the Emperor with No Clothes pass by, “Hey, that dude’s buck naked!”