The Markers of Digression: How Dumbed-Down PD Disrespects Teachers and Stifles Development
“We’re all mad here.” — The Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland
A woman stands near the door under a caged clock that hasn’t moved all morning and chirps into the microphone she doesn’t actually need for a room this size.
“If you can hear my voice, clap once!”
The dull familiarity of the routine draws half the room back to vague attention.
“If you can hear my voice, clap twice!” Her eyes betray a sliver of the glee she gets from this activity. They know she won’t be stopped.
“Ok, everyone, eyes on me.”
Now she’s pushing it.
“Make sure everyone on your team signs your poster before we put them all up on the wall and do a gallery walk!”
She grabs the roll of masking tape that never quite sticks on the painted cinderblock wall but is used nonetheless.
At this point, I know what you’re thinking: “This early in the year and, already, teachers are resorting to assigning kids to draw posters?”
Only, in this case, these aren’t kids being asked to color. They’re teachers.
It’s the school’s in-service, and this woman is talking to a room full of adults — most of them with master’s degrees — seated at miniature tables in primary color plastic miniature chairs that force knees into chinrests. It’s like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland, with big people in little chairs where nothing is as it seems — or should be.
Mr. Sketch-scented markers squeak on butcher paper, perfuming the school media center with artificial aromas that seem sickeningly appropriate for the task at hand: to create a “visual representation of school-level academic interventions.”
What’s alarming is how frequently teachers are subjected to this kind of mind-numbing “professional development” and how indicative it is of how teachers are treated by administrators and professional development providers.
It’s as if somewhere, someone, at some point made the decision that you couldn’t deliver a PowerPoint presentation to a room full of educators without the assistance of clip art.
As if somewhere stuck in the Xerox machine in the school copy room is a cartoon stamp and every time anyone runs off handouts for teacher mailboxes, they end up covered in light bulbs and thought bubbles.
And as if somewhere, in some Gardner-gone-oh-so-wrong-inspired, someone decided that teachers need manipulatives and markers to have deep conversations about instructional practice.
And schools and districts bought into it.
The widespread (mal)practice of dumbing down professional development is a slap in the face to hard-working educators. But it takes on an additional sting of irony at a time when new Common Core standards are upping the level of rigor and thinking for students in the classroom.
Wouldn’t it seem fitting that school and district leaders put the same level of rigor and thinking into the support they provide the teachers tasked with getting them there?
Instead of coloring assignments, school and district administrators owe teachers the respect, the tools, and the time they need for deep professional growth and collaboration.
And teachers should demand nothing less.