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April 22, 2012 / glencoyote

Conundrums

How does one write about life’s hard times without lapsing into either pollyanna or whining? My wife has an as yet incurable illness that may or may not be responsible for the hip problem that has her walking with a cane and waiting for an MRI, and I have a neck that may or may not require surgery but which, anecdotally speaking, clearly does require loss of sleep. I may or may not lose my job – having been RIF’ed along with 11,000 or so other LAUSD employees as my Superintendent pursues his vendetta against teachers under the dogmatic commitment to reform that has perversely turned so many against precisely the group that needs to be nurtured if reform is to occur.

I attended a professional development session, giving up a Saturday – which, as it turns out, would have been much better spent with my wife – in order to sit through six hours of canned material. I think I do appreciate the need to execute a pedagogy that reflects my student population of english language learners, many of whom are grade levels below standard. So I am perplexed as to why those who organize PDs address educators as though they were all the same. After all, doesn’t differentiation require you to take into account the skills and experience of your audience? So how is it possible that I can be asked to sit through a PD that doesn’t once provide me with a resource, a bit of research, or a reference that I feel compelled to write down? Why should conversations with my colleagues feel like furtive efforts at redirection?

Anger and frustration are not always the easiest companions for reflection. But if one can avoid the cheap thrills, there is a certain clarity that arrives when you are done slinging your arrows and tearing your flesh. As I sat in the acoustically challenged school cafeteria with the other teachers I felt estranged. How absurd it was that those with the money to assemble resources and command the attendance of teachers, did not have an effective way to connect their idea for a PD with the needs of their audience, while we – the consumers of the PD – had neither the time or money to assemble resources for our own needs?

Of course, at the conclusion of said PD the grandest pooh-bah in the room assured us that we were the pioneers, breaking the new ground that would save the school system. Yet to the best of my knowledge, not a single member of the non-classroom educational elite running the toxic PD has ever convened a frank discussion with a representative sample of teachers who are actually wrestling with the identified challenges on a day-to-day basis – because being a bureaucrat means never having to say that reality matters.

Lest there be any confusion, I do not think that any of the referenced bureaucrats are in any way consciously evil. On the contrary, I believe them to be well meaning people – our world would be better if everyone was as well meaning.  But however well meaning, they either don’t know what goes on in actual classrooms, or they have come to believe that their personal and institutional survival requires them to act as though they don’t know. The question is why is it so hard to provide professional development that begins with teacher articulated challenges and school level visions of success?

So in my present reality I go to work everyday, trying to redirect my attention away from my wife’s illness, the pain in my neck, the uncertainty about my future employment, and the despair I feel over the realization that my latest attempt at authenticity has enmeshed me in an organizational morass worthy of Brazil. And everyday – although not always effectively – I try to see my students, and I try to figure out why what I am doing is not fully meeting their needs. If not for my colleagues I would surely lose my mind.

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One Comment

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  1. tarpfrog / Apr 22 2012 5:49 am

    Well, speaking from personal experience, sometimes losing a job is the best thing that can happen to you. It does not sound like your current job is allowing you to thrive as a person. Your gifts, as you implied in your post, are not being recognized or even fully used. This is a terrible feeling, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Now is the moment for me to insert a terrible cliche, and I will (Pollyanna to the rescue!). Here we go: things look bad now, but this could be (pick your own): (a.) a blessing in disguise, (b.) the cloud’s silver lining, or (c.) the window that opens when the door closes. Keep your chin up, and let us know how it goes!

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