I spent hours reading, listening, discussing, learning, writing, performing, and feeling vulnerable in a room of 25 of the best educators in the country, not to mention the NEH seminar instructors. Zatz. Spangler. Gendzel. Ka. Chong. Lam. Kingston. Hosseini. Valdez. Valdez. An appeal to ethos: these are not just names. These are powerful voices, leaders in their fields, Ph.Ds, performers, poets, writers/directors of Broadway and West End shows, historians, Open PEN award winners, National Book Award winners, feminist icons, Presidential Medal of Honor winners, NYTimes Best Sellers, masters of their crafts, taking time to foster our curiosity and underscore our responsibility to give credence to imagination.
How could we not change after being treated like the curious intellectual equals to these amazing practitioners?
I feel braver, more confident, more prepared to be creative and follow unconventional ideas. Perhaps this will be the year I finally get up the courage to have my AP Lang students memorize a Traveling Wilburys song to perform before we write every day. In class, we turn into a river. We talk about who we are and where we are going. Students build frozen pictures, tableaux, with their bodies communicating analysis of texts through performance and discussion. We grow into a family of learners while taking risks. Curiosity rewards us as the students stop to talk about one word of text, one letter, one comma. Learning doesn’t end now as I tell the students “I’m sorry, we have to stop. The bell rang.” Students groan as they pack up, their discussions echoing out the door, down the halls, like water babbling down the river, as they continue to explore our now shared imagined world.
I’m excited to teach and learn everyday, to be creative and share this world with my students. My colleagues, too, are changed as my excitement piques their curiosity. This is probably what my admin and my state should want out of PD. And this excitement to imagine and learn is what makes a great teacher.
Juxtapose this with the canned PD that personnel offices expect us to purchase. This is the SPAM of professional learning, weirdly alien yet the same, year in and year out, plus or minus a few ounces of gelatinous goo. ‘Listen to a consultant!’ ‘Follow an online program!’ ‘Buy this expensive book, and don’t forget to submit a portfolio!’
This is not food for curiosity.
Do we learn or grow or become better teachers because of these courses? Do our students benefit because a consultant told us to sing, or care, or stand on a table? We need to reflect on our answers to these questions. PD courses that don’t change teaching and learning, that don’t positively impact us all as teachers and students, are obsolete, yet we are encouraged to pursue this model of PD, mere sustenance to keep teachers moving on the treadmill that they call a career ladder. These courses may change one lesson but they rarely inspire us to truly change, to be creative, to listen to the voices that encourage us to imagine different landscapes where students are the center.