*This blog post does not reflect the views of my school or anyone working within my school.
Professional development (PD) should be the cornerstone for anyone looking to better themselves no matter what career they choose. Educators seem to be at the forefront when it comes to attending PD. We are a profession that is constantly trying to make ourselves better and in some instances told we have no choice but to attend certain professional development because we cannot be licensed to be a teacher without a set number of hours of PD or college credits to match.
Since starting my teaching career over 16 years ago I have slowly and steadily watched professional development make the proverbial dive out of the sky as if it is an airplane that is slowly losing one engine at a time. Teachers aren’t going and the quality of PD isn’t always top notch. For me, I am lucky because I have had the privilege of being on both the delivery side of PD and the receiving end through work with the Chippewa River Writing Project. Through many conversations with colleagues and like-minded educators, I have come to a few conclusions as to why professional development is facing a potential breaking point for teachers and educators.
First, professional development is expensive. Many school districts used to help their teachers out and help pay for professional development. With constant cuts to per-pupil funding, declining enrollment, and other funding like Title II being cut, teachers are forced to pay for PD out of their own pockets. If you add up the cost of the conference, potential hotel expenses, gas, and meals. Teachers can potentially be looking at costs between $500-$1000 depending on the type of conference. Please don’t think I am complaining about what teachers make either. I am simply saying therepotentially is a lot of out of pocket costs to absorb.
Besides the financial burden of professional development, I feel there is low-quality PD being offered by our Intermediate School District (ISD) where multiple schools belong. They do a poor job of helping teachers. Our ISD is supposed to support and develop teachers and their skills. That is not happening. I do see them helping our new teachers, but that is it. I hear too much from their end about the high cost and poor attendance, etc. Why is it then that our ISD sits on almost 3 million dollars, but can’t offer quality experiences for teachers? I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but I know it is within my ISD. They are not the only entities to blame for quality PD, but when considering the types of professional development that can be low cost or free for teachers, this is good place to start.
Now, put aside financial burden and quality of PD and the issue of teacher burnout existing. I never really gave much thought to teacher burnout until I was talking to a very close friend and colleague about why teachers are not participating in PD. He discussed that fact that teachers plates are becoming increasingly full. With reduced staff in schools, teachers are being asked to do more and more. When teachers prioritize what they need to do and get done, PD seems to be at the bottom of the significant list of items. I think of PD like a salad. We know it’s good for us and it can make us better or healthy. However, we just want to skip it and get to the main course or the main items on our plates. We don’t have time or the need to mess with the salad. I have even witnessed teachers turn down a professional development package that was worth over $1000 and all it would cost them is gas money to travel.
All of this lends itself to rethinking how professional development should be delivered to teachers. Yes, there are many online PD opportunities, but are they better than face-to-face? Is true collaboration taking place with online spaces? I do have a passion for the 4T Conference which is truly phenomenal. So, to say that all online PD is low quality is not a fair assessment. I do not have the answers and I am sure others don’t agree with what I am writing. On the other hand, I do feel it is time to rethink how PD is being done and what we can do to help teachers in this area.
(Image Courtesy of Johnson County Community College http://blogs.jccc.edu/2017/08/11/professional-development-days-fall-2017/)
Imagine with me, that it is a beautiful August evening that isn’t blazing hot and it is 8:00 p.m. Along with that beautiful setting, you see that there is going to be a Twitter chat about Grammar. I’m assuming most people will find better things to do. That particular setting wasn’t fiction, it was real and led me to another wonderful opportunity to lead the #miched chat with my co-author Troy Hicks on the topic of grammar.
Miched is the hashtag for Michigan educators and many others from across the nation to chat on Twitter about certain topics. Last Thursday was part of the Michigan author series that is taking place throughout the month of August. Dr. Hicks and I released the book From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age for which the conversation revolved around. After introducing the history of grammar at the beginning of our book, we discuss strategies for grammar instruction while incorporating technology.
During our conversation, the importance of grammar was challenged. The question came up from one of the participants about, “Is grammar really viewed as being important anymore?” This question really started to eat away at me after reflecting and processing what the question was truly asking. That particular question was discussed for at least ten minutes. With keeping that question in mind I started to think back to the many times I visit my local news website and see news articles riddled with grammar errors. Honestly, does anyone proofread these articles? Last year, I sent a short email to my local news station about an article I read and respectfully pointed out two errors. Though I wasn’t expecting a response, I wanted them to know that I am a teacher and I want authentic examples for my students to see and use. It was disheartening to see such poor writing skills from professionals.
By the end of the day, those “professionals” emailed me back. Instead of owning up to their mistakes and potentially saying they will do better next time, they pushed the blame onto the Associated Press. Hmmm, okay…did anyone read the story before just clicking a few buttons to throw it on their website? I’m guessing it was no one. I will also go out on a limb and say the news station wanted to be the first one locally to get the story up and out to viewers no matter if it was riddled with errors or not.
So, getting back to question of is grammar losing its importance, I am still leaning towards no. Do certain entities put less emphasis on grammar? Absolutely. For examples, there are companies such as Sarah Lee (Double Negative in their slogan) that use poor grammar to advertise their product. It does not mean that we should abandon the use of proper grammar or place less importance on it.
What it does mean is that we are going to have to dig deeper for more positive, yet accurate uses for our students and children. It also means we need to model proper use of grammar more frequently and show our students real world application. Finally, it means we need to push back against the improper use of grammar and maintain that it is an important part of English Language Arts. Just don’t offend anyone when you correct their grammar. 😉
Over the past several weeks the word humility has been swimming in my head. The sermon at church a few weeks ago was about humility. Humility is defined as being humble or one’s own thought of being important. Or even the amount of pride you might show.
I like to think of myself as being a humble person. I don’t like to shove my successes into other people’s faces or talk about my accomplishments much. For the most part, I feel I am humble.
I feel that I am a good teacher and I reach as many students as I can when I am in contact with them. On the other hand, as an author and a presenter, I also believe that I do my best. That isn’t me bragging, that’s just me being confident in what I do. I am also proud of what I do. Plain and simple, I love helping other people, especially teachers. If I have ever appeared to act otherwise, it isn’t done on purpose. Collaborating and working with other like-minded professionals is where it is at for me.
Unfortunately, there is still a struggle within me that I don’t let others see and it is me dealing with pride and humility. There is a deep desire within me to continue to be as successful as possible. I want the emails, the phone calls, and the guest blog posts. Yes, that part shows my lack of humility. What keeps me somewhat grounded is thinking about the costs which comes to the other parts of my life. More importantly, my own kids and the students in my classroom suffer as I try to better myself in a professional manner. I start to wonder if it is worth it and why does it matter. I also wonder at times why I don’t get more phone calls or requests to speak. After all, I am published and know what I am talking about. It’s a constant battle in my head and I am starting to become irritated.
Lately, I have set my sights not on what I can do for others or gaining glory, but more on making my students successful. No more worrying about the emails or phone calls. What happens…happens. I recently posted on Facebook that it was time to step-up my game and I meant it. I have been focusing on setting-up a new class website, researching digital tools that help my students be successful both in and out of the classroom, and studying more science curriculum as I begin my 2nd year as a science teacher.
I am refusing to let the battle rage on inside me. What is important is that I work hard for my students every day and not worry about things I can’t control. I will be thankful for the opportunities when they come my way and not let that part of my career control who I am. Today, I am more humble.