Friday, August 1, 2008

Shoe Horn Professional Development

When the AFT trainers came out this past winter to ascertain what would be beneficial to the Yemeni teachers, a 7 day training was put together. As usual, money—not the needs of teachers—became a central issue and so we have that 7 day training pared down to 5 days. As we were going over the agenda with an official from the Ministry of Education who works with the Yemeni Teachers Syndicate he asked, “Isn’t this a lot of material to teach them in 5 days?” and so the realities of professional development cannot be escaped no matter where we are.

As someone who guides the budget for our union, I understand and have a healthy respect for budgeting, saving money, and offering the best quality for the value in all areas. However, we must very, very soon draw a line in the sand for low budget professional development with high stakes expectations.

If there are clear expectations for what teachers should know in order to start a year, or start the profession for that matter, in order to meet the needs of our students in the 21st century, why are we continually forced to cram them into 19th and 20th century school years and school days? Why are there corners cut in professional development but the same mile-long expectations and accountability?

Let’s leave the expectations and accountability alone for now, but let’s stop shoe-horning in an hour of mining test data here, and 54 minutes of professional conversations there. Our union needs to lead the conversation around a professional day and year that allows us to do our jobs and meet the needs of our students, allows us to talk to each other regularly and not on the way to the bathroom or just before basketball practice, allows us to build relationships with students in meaningful ways (another day I will talk about the lunacy of “fresh-starting” teachers in our most vulnerable schools), and allows us at the end of the day to feel that we had the professional voice to shape the day and year we have because we are the professionals who understand how to meet the needs of our students.

Some people might call that ideal; I want to call that reality. In St. Paul, and hopefully someday here in Yemen, too.

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