Teacher professional development is defined as “a variety of specialized training, formal education, or advanced professional learning intended to help teachers improve their professional knowledge, competence, skill, and effectiveness.” I honestly don’t think most teachers would have a problem going to these training sessions if we actually learned something from them.
Rather, these professional development workshops are almost always a torturous mixture of reiterating the same things we’ve heard dozens of times, embarrassing us, treating us like morons, and making us do mindless activities until we get so angry we feel like we are going to explode.
Here are some of the worst I’ve had to sit through:
Bloodborne Pathogens Training. I learned not to pick up vomit with my bare hands.
Incorporating Technology in the Secondary Classroom. I learned how to use Google.
Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom. I learned that if anyone asks, I should say that I differentiate everything.
Reading Strategies. I learned to follow along with my pointer finger when I read.
Solving Classroom Discipline Problems. I learned that bad behavior is my fault. My lessons are not exciting enough.
Gang Prevention Training. I learned that if a student is wearing a bandana, they are probably in a gang.
An Introduction to Peer Mediation. I learned that when kids try to kill each other, it is helpful to have them sit in a circle, possibly on a cheerful rug, and discuss their feelings.
Professional development courses tend to fall into six basic categories: Mindfulness, Teaching Methods, Safety, Technology, Team Building and Total Bullsh*t (they’re all bullsh*t, but these are particularly crappy and without purpose).
I asked my teacher friends and followers to describe their worst professional development experiences. Here is a rundown of the most interesting of the bunch (with my commentary in italics).
Mindfulness and Relaxation Teacher Professional Development
Teaching is a stressful job, so we’re often provided with mindfulness and relaxation professional development workshops to help us chill us. I can guarantee that very few of these actually help us relax.
They made us do laughter yoga where the teachers stand in a circle and try to laugh in many different ways in front of their peers. The facilitator became upset that I kept sitting down (I was sick) so she moved my chair without me knowing. When I went to sit down again, I fell and struck my head on a table and got a concussion. You should have sued! You could be on a beach in Hawaii sipping Mai Tais instead of going to the next ridiculous PD!
We had to do country line dancing to relieve stress. Now that sounds pretty relaxing!
An inspirational speaker preached to us about relaxation and meditation. It seemed promising until she started talking about how ineffective prescription medication is and that we should be treating depression and stress with “other” techniques. Then she made us all do a massage train. That sounds like a harassment lawsuit waiting to happen!
A woman spoke to us about stress management. She told us to get outside and take a walk during our “lunch break.” She was shocked to find out we only get 25 minutes for lunch and have to use that time to go to the bathroom, make copies, and grade papers. Isn’t it fascinating how the people who try to teach teachers have no clue what teachers actually do all day long?
During a session about meditation and calming strategies in the classroom we were told to shut our eyes and relax our “genitals.” I’ll be sure to use that one with my students!
A professional came in to teach us “mindfulness,” and we had to taste raisins and describe the way they felt on our tongues. Are you saying that you don’t find the taste of raisins relaxing?
Teaching Methods Professional Development
If you think a teaching methods PD would be helpful, you’re sorely mistaken. Teachers are usually pretty good at the teaching and behavior management part of teaching (we went to college after all!), so most of these professional development workshops are pointless.
In a training on behavioral problems we were told if we gave kids omega vitamins and fish oil it would solve all behavior problems. If this is true, I am going to start giving out fruit punch spiked with fish oil. Desperate times call for weird, unproven and probably illegal measures.
I learned how not to be a “worksheet teacher” by doing a bunch of worksheets. Ah yes, the old “don’t do what I’m doing and forcing you do” professional development strategy.
We did a “snowball” fight where we all wrote down our most innovative ways of teaching the same standard, wadded the paper into balls, and threw them around the room while “Let it Go” from Frozen played. Makes sense to me! It’s about expressing your frustration about the forced standards, right?
We made a cell phone case out of pipe cleaners, cardboard, and fasteners and then sold it like an infomercial. No idea why. Probably because you have to “sell the lesson plan” or some crap like that.
I sat in an hour-long PD to learn how to greet every student by name (and with a compliment) as they entered the classroom. The facilitator came back to make sure we were following through with it. Imagine a woman standing next to you with a clipboard watching you say hello to 33 students one by one, and writing down the compliments you gave. I tried to imagine that but it took so long just picturing it that I fell asleep.
We spent half a day on making seating charts and the other half on how to give “the look” to get kids to behave. Hey, don’t underestimate the power of THE LOOK. I’m a grown woman, and I still tremble when my mom whips that out!
During “learning literacy strategies for 8th graders” it took us six 45-minute-long sessions to read and highlight the story of the three little pigs and determine the meaning of the story. Ironic that the pigs represent the repressed desire to work less and the wolf is the powerful authority figure who drives you to work hard and do things you don’t want to do out of fear. Sound familiar?
Safety Teacher Professional Development
It’s no surprise teaching is a dangerous job (just read my post on 5 School Shootings That Could Have Been Prevented as an example of this). Safety professional developments SHOULD be helpful, but often they’re complete bunk
A guy came to our school to discuss school shootings and how to protect ourselves and the kids. He basically told us to throw a laptop at the gunman and leave the kids. If it’s your own personal laptop, it isn’t worth the risk. If it’s one of the school’s crappy Chromebooks, go for it!
We had several ladder safety courses – some that lasted for hours with videos and demonstrations. Considering all that ladder climbing that teachers do, this is actually pretty important!
The worst was the “please stop going to the ER, it’s costing the district too much money” PD. Well is splitting your head open or breaking your wrist REALLY a good reason to waste the district’s money? Don’t be so selfish!
We had to attend a training on how to wash your hands correctly. Before you knock it, are you sure everyone knows that you dry your hands AFTER you wash them?
We had an anti-bullying training which required us to take turns sitting in a circle while other teachers went around the circle saying mean things to us. Don’t underestimate the usefulness of feedback from colleagues!
Technology Professional Development Workshops
Teachers need to stay up on the latest technology to effectively use it during our workday, but BOY do some of these workshops become completely pointless.
We spent four hours learning to use an online assessment system. We didn’t have Wi-Fi in our building, and we weren’t getting Wi-Fi in our building. Perhaps you might move to a wealthier district in the future that has access to Wi-Fi? They want to make sure you’re prepared!
They showed us some cool tech programs and then said we only get the free version which can’t do anything. Since teachers end up buying everything themselves, this was probably a big infomercial! I bet the district even got a cut!
We had a four-hour training on how to send an email. They even brought in a Microsoft consultant. Although most people would find that to be a useless training session, my mom would really appreciate it! (Sorry mom. Love you.)
They made us watch a presentation about how to get away from just using PowerPoint, by a guy who used PowerPoint to do his entire presentation. And the level of boredom you experienced, along with the murderous feeling you felt, convinced you to avoid using PowerPoint I’m sure. Mission accomplished!
Team Building Professional Development
Hoo boy, don’t even get me started on team building. Apparently, we all need to feel like one big team at a school or district by doing stupid, embarrassing, or dangerous activities together to *bond*.
We had to participate in a drum circle. And the problem is…?
We had to stand in a circle and all massage each other’s shoulders to stress the importance of touch. I guess your district has extra funds to handle a few harassment suits. Totally worth it!
We had a full day conference in which we spent the first three hours doing a music “workshop” where we built instruments out of garbage and then played a song for others to guess, whilst a “lead teacher” from the district (who no longer worked in the classroom) came around and made patronizing comments. I wouldn’t want to do it but I would pay good money to watch!
We had to get into small groups and frost a pound cake. Some teams had pound cakes that were all cut up and some had whole cakes. The cakes were supposed to represent students. Every child is like a special pound cake and every cake deserves to be frosted equally. Also, free cake!
All the employees had to walk across the gym in a weird way that was different from everyone else. It was recorded and played at the next meeting. Ah, the old “public humiliation caught on tape” PD! It’s a classic!
We were forced as a full faculty to stand in a circle and do the nae nae. Again, I wouldn’t want to do it but I would pay good money to see it!
A juggler came and we had to juggle with our peers. And the problem is…?
We did a game of faculty rock, paper, scissors to “build school climate.” I would have gone with scissors every time to represent the violent school climate they were creating by making us play rock, paper, scissors.
We played a game called “Touch Someone Who…” Sounds like the perfect opportunity to harass someone you’ve been meaning to harass for a while.
We were broken up into groups, taught a line dance, and then we had to perform the line dance in front of the other groups. Yup. I wouldn’t want to do it but I would pay a lot of money to see it!
We played musical chairs as an icebreaker for a department of grown ass adults who had known each other for years. We were already so comfortable with each other that people got bruised and body-blocked in the fight over chairs. That actually sounds like fun. Stupid, pointless fun.
Total Bullsh*t Teacher Professional Development
Lastly, some teacher professional development workshops serve absolutely no purpose other than to slowly suck the life out of every teacher there. Here are the best of the best.
We sat in a classroom with no air conditioning for three days in August while having the faculty handbook read to us word for word. Sounds like a new reality show called Teacher Survivor.
I traveled three hours for PD on color coordinating classroom decorations. Clashing colors can cause a lot of anxiety for some very fashion-conscious students. Where is your empathy?
Our principal printed out every single email she received from the school year, and we had to organize them into different piles under the guise of data review, personal emails included. That sounds inappropriate, but I won’t tell anyone, I swear!
They hired a street artist who prepared nothing prior to arriving in front of a room full of art teachers. He turned on R&B and gave us a private interpretive/exotic dance that involved pantomiming with a concrete pole. I’d take that over a meeting about differentiation any day of the week!
We had a meeting about HOW TO HAVE A MEETING. Well, are you sure everyone understands that you have to keep your pants on the whole time? This is a critical element of having a successful meeting!
For hours, teachers seriously debated the pros and cons of keeping the door propped open, using a door stopper, or just opening and closing the door each time a student needed to exit the room. Or you could do what I do which is lock the door. I don’t trust anyone these days!
During Advanced Placement Literature training we had to perform a Renaissance dance. Again, I wouldn’t want to do it but I would pay good money to see it!
For 3 hours we compared and contrasted success and achievement. And I’m sure you all agreed that every student deserves both (even if they don’t come to school or do any work)!
We got to take printed state testing data and rewrite it by hand. I have no witty retort, only a giant middle finger.
We all had to drive in a car around the city on a scavenger hunt. If the principal wasn’t in my car, I would have gone home. This is why people drink and drive.
I had to spin a plate. If it was a real plate, then that might be a great way to blow off steam!
We had to attend a session called “How to blow a whistle correctly.” This is extremely useful for P.E. teachers! Think of all the whistleblowing they do in a day!
The district paid a woman thousands of dollars, twice, to explain her classroom management strategies. She told us to use old ties with Velcro to hold kids in their seats. I would absolutely do that! And if anyone questioned me, I’d remind them that I learned that strategy in an expensive, mandatory professional development workshop!
We learned how to make a cupcake “healthy.” Not sure what that has to do with education but I do enjoy cupcakes.
Ridiculous Professional Development for Teachers
While teacher professional development can often be helpful to give teachers skills to better teach in the classroom, they’re often full of pointless activities and tasks that just waste our time.
Have you ever had a horrible teacher professional development workshop you had to sit through? Leave us a message in the comments below or tell us all about it in our Vent forum!
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Jane Morris, Author
Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself but is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. As a professional queen of commiseration turned published author, Jane’s foremost passion in life is to make people laugh.
She has written several highly acclaimed books unpacking the reality of teaching and life inside the school system. You can view her full library of works here.