Monday, February 17, 2014

"Where's the Chocolate?"

“I’m sorry. The brain you are trying to reach has been temporarily disconnected. Please try again later, after its owner has consumed vast quantities of peanut butter and chocolate.”

This is how I feel after a school day filled, not with real teaching, but with IEP meetings, staff meetings, grade level PLC meetings, and/or most district-level in-service training meetings. Numb. Zoned out. Mentally disconnected. Certainly not rejuvenated, empowered, or engaged, ready to go back to my classroom with renewed enthusiasm and energy.

It wasn’t always this way. When I first entered the teaching profession, almost 16 years ago now, I LOVED any kind of training meeting. I always came back from them with new things I’d learned and that I could use immediately in my classroom. It was exciting to share a classroom with other teachers from all over the district, share our successes and our failures, make new friends, and continue to share with one another years after the training day.

It started every September with the new training day classes booklet. Inside were lists of classes for each range of grade levels, where the classes would be held (never in the district office, BTW, almost always in the classroom of the teacher conducting the training), the times/dates for the training classes, and the number of teachers allowed in each session.

We were allowed to sign up for a total of five classes each year (although we wanted more), and we could wait as long as the week before a training class in order to sign up, if we wanted. However, we knew better than to wait. The best classes filled up fast, so we signed up as fast as we could. We’d meet with our teacher friends during lunch in the staff room (yes, we actually sat down and ate lunch daily) to discuss the classes we wanted to take, and we’d all call in our choices by the end of the week.

On training day, we’d carpool from our school, then sit together in the training class, not to waste time with idle chatter, but to talk about how we would use the strategies or supplies in our own classroom when we returned. If there wasn’t enough room in our class for everyone we knew who wanted to attend, we’d take notes, or make extra copies, to share with other teachers back “home.” We didn’t compare test scores, or try to pinpoint who was the best teacher. We just shared, and helped each other.

Principals did not show up at these trainings to check on us. There was a sign-in sheet, and we were trusted to take a reasonable lunch, as well as breaks when we needed them. There were bowls of chocolate on the tables, and we shared handfuls with each other, grinning about the mood-lifting properties of chocolate which were extolled by researchers. We were sharing not just the chocolate, but also a love of teaching and learning, a love of sharing our enthusiasm with each other, a love of the difference we were making in the lives of our children.

We didn’t need to be policed because we WANTED to be there. We talked. We laughed. We LEARNED: from the classroom teacher,  from the trainers, and from each other. When we returned to school we were enthusiastic about what we learned, eager to share new lessons and new materials with our students. Years later, we still shared new learning materials we had stumbled upon, or which had been shared with us by a colleague. We sent them by district “pony mail” to other schools where other training day friends worked, because that’s what they were to us: Friends. Colleagues. Teachers. Never competitors.

Unfortunately, this is not the way we are trained today. I can’t remember the last training day where we were allowed to choose what interested us, where we learned from Master Teachers, shared ideas with other teachers, or came home excited to share what we learned with our students. Today’s trainings usually involve district bureaucrats, corporate trainers, and principals acting as police officers to ensure our compliance. 

When asking fellow teachers what they thought of the training there is usually much eye rolling, groaning, and exasperation. Today there is definitely no sharing, no enthusiasm, and definitely no eagerness to apply what has been learned.

Today I ask, “Where’s the chocolate?”
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