Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Thirteen Presenters Who Will Ruin Your First Day Back

It's been a great summer. You've had a chance to recharge and reflect. You've developed some new ideas, units, and materials, and most importantly, away from the dailiness of the job, you have gotten back in touch with all the reasons you love the work. You cannot wait to get back to it., take a couple of in service days to get fully up to speed, and then-- bring on the students!

Unfortunately, your administration thinks that your very first day(s) back should be spent sitting in some professional development sessions. In some lucky few school districts, these sessions will actually be useful and even  inspiring. But if you are really unfortunate, you'll spend those sessions with one of these soul-crushing people:

The Defense Specialist

"I'm here to remind you that at any moment this year, someone might burst into your room and kill you and your students. I'm going to talk about how you should react when someone is about to shoot you, presenting a variety of scenarios and details of previous shootings that will all be so vivid that for the rest of this week you won't be able to concentrate on teaching material because you're too busy looking for hiding places in the room, peering into your own soul to consider whether or not you are the kind of person who would die for your students, and just generally staring into the abyss of human mortality and brutality."

The Social Issues Specialist

"I'd like to talk to you about some issue that affects your students-- something like hunger or poverty or gang violence or homelessness or whatever drug is currently out of control. I will remind you that many of your students are being slowly crushed by forces outside of your control and you will need to be sensitive to that, which is the classroom equivalent of sending thoughts and prayers. I represent a group that is trying to address the issue, but we are desperately short of both time and money, and you will end up being depressed that the two things we need are the two things that you don't have enough of to contribute anything helpful."

The Data Dumper

"Here's a bunch of test score data. Some of it's on this website with lots of cool color-coded graphics. Here are some spreadsheets. Here's some disaggregated data on students that you won't actually meet for a few days. Of course, you can't see the test or the questions, and you'll just have to take our word for it that these numbers mean what we say they mean. None of this will actually be useful in planning your courses, but it will serve as a gut-kicking reminder that no matter how  awesome you  are in the classroom this year, all your bosses really care about is the results of this damned useless invalid test. Those of you who don't even teach English or Math can go ahead and get extra depressed and angry about this."

The Education Entrepreneur

"I was plodding along in a classroom just like yours until I had the bright idea of taking something that's a widely known teaching technique and giving it a small superficial tweak and a snappy piece of branding. I copyrighted that puppy and now-- ka-ching! You will spend the next hour looking at my nice clothes, thinking about my cool car, and questioning your life choices."

The Ballsy Tourist

"Every one of you has more training, experience and knowledge about teaching than I do. Sit back and get comfortable while I tell you how to do your job. I thank God that teachers are too professional and polite to charge the lectern, no matter how much rage I generate."

The Sacrificial Lamb

"I'm a teacher in this district. You all know me. The fact that administration voluntold me out here to present this program/policy/initiative tells you everything you need to know. It sucks, and they don't want to have to look you in the eyes or take your questions when you realize just how much it sucks. They're hoping that I have enough social capital earned with the rest of the staff that there will at least not be immediate open revolt."

The Lawyer

"I'm going to scare the crap out of you with a list of all the possible ways that things you do innocently every single day could destroy your career and ruin your life. Have a great year."

The Edu-Celebrity

"I'm chirpy and internet famous, which makes sense because I mostly talk in Tweets. I'm going to say obvious platitudes like 'attitude is important' and 'we teach students, not subjects.' The biggest damage I will do is the permanent loss of respect you're about to feel for your colleagues who think I'm a freakin' genius."

The Flavor of the Month

"Let me tell you about the Hot New Idea in education that your administration got excited about at some conference, or maybe they read an article.  Whatever. Yeah, you might recognize me from last year when I was making the rounds to talk about grit. Never mind.  That's over. You're probably thinking that you can ignore me and keep your head down until this trendy new storm passes, and you're probably right. That's okay. I'm still getting paid."

The Angel Of Slow Death

"What am I talking about? You have no idea, because I am the most boring speaker in the history of the world. Watch as all the oxygen in the room spontaneously self-deports."

The Bringer of Bad News

"I am a person in a position of authority, so you can't just openly howl in anguish as I detail a piece of educational malpractice that you will be required to perpetrate this year. 'This is not why I became a teacher' will play over and over in your head as I outline the kinds of actions that ought to be denounced by any ethical professional. Ten years ago I used to try to get you to buy in on this stuff, but now my message is do this or else.  What the hell do you know? You're just a freakin' teacher."

The Unfortunate Administrator

"Hey, there! Remember me? Chances are you kind of put me out of your mind over the summer, but I wanted to grab some of this in service day for myself so that I could remind you of all the ways I'm a giant pain to work for. Here's some cool new paperwork and procedures I've concocted; we'll go over those in a few minutes, because I would rather force you to look at and listen to me than just handle this with a simple e-mail, but first, let me say some things I don't really mean, like 'this is a team' and 'you guys do the most important work in the district' and 'my office door is always open.' Now I'll tell a bad joke laced with a crippling lack of self-awareness. Watch who laughs! Dance, puppets!"

The Camp Counselor

"Let's start with a fun ice breaker! Then we'll pair and share over some question you'll ignore while you pair and share about how much you wish you were getting work done in your room. If you're good, I might even let you play some games that you would never use with your own students, but some of you will play along anyway because I have some fast food gift certificates to give away as prizes."


  1. In my perfect dream world all of these presenters would be required to sit for a one hour PD session consisting of a team of teenagers (13 to 17), including the know-it-all, the wise ass, the annoying one, the apathetic, the relentlessly combative, and the cell phone addict. At the end of my one hour dream, all the adult presenters decide to change careers.

    1. PD session? This should be a reality show. I would add legislators and edu-celebrities to the mix.

  2. OOOOh! That was sooo... SPOT ON! I think that describes every District beginning year meeting I have ever attended in 25 years of teaching!

  3. I've had many a first day back like that.

  4. So true and so frustrating.

  5. Retired physics (mainly) teacher here.

    In 34 years, I had 2 (only 2) so-called opening PDs that had ANY impact on me.

    1st,from Dr Ben Nesbit Spring Valley HS Richland 2 Columbia SC, slightly paraphrasing: "We're not requiring our students to read and comprehend on their own enough." My response was to give pop quizzes based upon reading and example problems at the beginning of classes. I had a number of former students tell me that me not spoon-feeding everything actually prepared them for the rigors of difficult college coursework.

    2nd was from a lady from Westminster Academy in Atlanta who held a masters in brain science. I can't recall her name (wish I could) but she literally called the bell-to-bell instruction model counterproductive. (Actually loudly called the concept BULLSHIT.) Her point was that almost everyone needs some space to consider & absorb any new material or concept plus time to practice and/or model the point(s) of a lesson.

    If anyone from central South Carolina is interested, I'll name a few names of the particularly bad wasters of MY "PD" time. Two of them are former or are the current superintendent of Richland District 2. A couple are from Lexington/Richland 5.

  6. Which one was the one who read all the PowerPoint slides? How about the one whose slides were filled with tiny text that could barely be read by the first row, but didn't have any handouts of the slides?

    1. Ah, yes, the Wordy Optometrist! I've seen them present.

    2. And before PowerPoint, there were the overhead slide presentations where some Assistant Superintendent of Instruction (say a Debbie Hamm) dryly reads each slide aloud to a roomful of highly educated teachers even though the font is humongous.

  7. Don't forget the annoying way that many of these speakers refer to students as "kiddos", and like to attach the word "piece" to teaching tasks for no reason. For example, "When you are thinking about the instructional piece," or "We are going to be talking about the assessment piece."

  8. The best words of wisdom I received in 40 years of mostly wasteful PD sessions was in reference to the validity of homework: "If a student activity is essential for learning, never ask them to do it on their own time. And if it isn't essential, why waste their own time."

    The worst PD session was an consulting group that had our entire staff role play different scenarios that poor families encounter.
    This poverty simulation "game" was complete with identity cards, situational conflicts, goals, and consequences. Intending to sensitize us to the stressors of poverty proved counterproductive as many teachers joked their way through this debacle. Ultimately, pretending to be poor for two hours was beyond insulting to any poor parent who wondered why their child had the afternoon off.

  9. Soooo true! Let's keep our fingers crossed that this doesn't happen tomorrow!

  10. Over the past three days of workshop: Experienced at least ten of these. Retirement, you are SO close, I can feel your sweet smell of freedom.