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 trainings if we actually learned something from them. Instead, they 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.
Your Teacher is Not a Teacher
Allow me to give you an example of the most useless professional development workshop I was ever forced to attend. A few years ago, I had to attend a week-long,40-hour training session in the summer. The title of the course was something like “Incorporating Literacy in the Secondary Classroom.” I was confused by this because, as an English teacher, pretty much all I do is promote literacy. But I tried to keep an open mind before attending this week of cruel and unusual development.
Honestly, after 40 hours spent in that class, I cannot tell you what it was about or what I was supposed to have learned for the life of me. The class was taught by an elementary-level professional development specialist. So basically, the woman who was going to teach middle and high school teachers how to teach was not a teacher, and had never worked in a secondary setting. Cool.
Toys are Not for Playtime!
For someone who works with younger kids, this lady did not have a lot of patience. She put what she called “manipulatives” on every table. She explained that these items had the potential to help students focus. It was basically a pile of toys and soon after, in our desperate state of boredom, we began to play. This did not, in any way, make it easier for us to focus.
While the teacher lectured us about… der… something, we were having a blast. There were lots of squishy things, and we squished the crap out of them. We took the suction cup things and stuck them on each other. We threw the slimy stuff at the wall and marveled as it slowly slid to the floor. But the most engrossing activity, by far, was the play dough.
Since the class was held in the cafeteria, we were able to find a lot of interesting objects to add to our playdough sculptures. My most admired creations were a lizard emerging from a woman’s body and a queen made out of an old potato skin I found under the table. A neighbor fashioned some high heels out of silly putty for her.
I guess our use of the manipulatives made it difficult for the teacher to focus because, at one point, she stomped over, snatched them all off the table and yelled, “They’re not supposed to be used like that!”
“Geez, miss… I was just trying to focus better in your class!” I thought. That was the first eight hours of this workshop.
On the next day, things got really interesting. We had to push all the tables to the perimeter of the room and form a big circle. We were each given a piece of paper with the name of an animal written on it. We were instructed to listen to the teacher read a kindergarten-level book about the rainforest, and every time we heard the name of our animal, we were supposed to make the corresponding noise as loud as we could. As much as I wanted to participate and “develop professionally,” I had a big problem. The animal I was given was a “c*ck-of-the-rock.” I didn’t have a damn clue what that was.
I asked everyone around me, and no one knew. Then I was told to “shhhhh!”
So instead of asking for clarification, I waited in confusion until my animal was called. “And the c*ck-of-the-rock said…?” After a brief pause, I let out a noise that I felt was generic enough to fit most animals. It was like a high-pitched “meeeeehhhh.” The teacher looked at me with disdain and said, “What was that?”
“I don’t really know because I have no idea what a c*ck-of-the-rock is!”
“It’s a bird!” she yelled with condemnation. “Try again!”
Even though I now knew to make a bird noise, I wasn’t sure what kind of bird noise to make. In a moment of sheer panic, I yelled, “Quack! Quack!” Everyone was laughing their butts off except for the teacher.
“A bird! Not a duck!”
“Geez, for an elementary teacher, you don’t have much patience, do you?” I thought again. Then I remembered that she was not actually a teacher–and it all made sense.
“Cuck-caw!” I said with less enthusiasm. “Was that a bird noise?” With that, the activity continued.
Soon after, a few teachers came out in various rainforest-themed costumes and just stood there, looking humiliated. She then launched into a lecture about how to make literature come alive in the classroom. I saw what she was going for, and I’m sure my 4-year-old would have loved it. The only problem was that every teacher there taught 7-12th grade. I think you’ll agree that if you tried to make a teenager dress up as a bird, you would probably get punched in the face. I don’t think any animal involving the word “c*ck” would go over well, either.
Hot Potato and Sock Wars
The rest of the week, we listened to her drone on and on about her kids, how much she hated her kids’ teachers, and other various (boring) musings on life. We also played games such as Bananagrams, Sock Wars, and Hot Potato, all of which my daughter plays in preschool.
Forty hours of my life were lost to complete and utter nonsense. And this is fairly common for most professional development workshops. Once in a while, they will start out in a helpful, relevant way, but they beat the same points into you so many times that when you hear a certain educational term, you react like someone with PTSD. Just say the word “differentiation” near a teacher and watch them shudder.
But I guess I should have been grateful that I didn’t have to participate in country line dancing for team building or a “massage train” for wellness.
If you enjoyed this article, you would also love The Dumbest Professional Development Courses Ever. You would also enjoy my book More Teacher Misery: Nutjob Teachers, Torturous Training & Even More BS.
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.