Teachers enjoy the summer break, too. However, depending on when school gets out, summer vacation may be winding down already. If that is the case in your area, that means people are in for the start of summer professional development. For those who aren’t already familiar, virtually every school requires teachers to come back to work before the students get there to some varying degree. This time is typically spent on systems and protocols, classroom work time, lesson planning and, of course, the dreaded professional development (PD).
Professional development is not popular among teachers. Sure, people like being sent on all-expense-paid trips to conferences to learn, but teachers are usually not fans of the PD offered by the school or district—even if they fly in the same people from the conferences.
I am far from the defender of all things PD. I have sat in on many hours of “development” that I consider to be virtually useless. With that being said, I have to call a spade a spade and point out that some of the pushback against PD is, in fact, teachers just not wanting to develop or change.
You know the type. The teachers who feel like they know everything. The teachers who don’t want to change something, even if it's not working, simply because they are already accustomed to their way. At times, we can all exhibit these traits, but some of us more than others. That is unfortunate because a lot of these same people truly need the PD.
I have been teaching for over a decade, and more times than I can count, I have witnessed teachers sleepwalk and complain about PD they were forced to attend, only to struggle in the area covered during the school year. Imagine if you had a basketball player whose main weakness was free-throw shooting, but didn’t take off-season shooting workouts seriously. There are millions of teachers who follow that example.
Teachers who can’t manage a classroom, but complain about PD centered around behavior.
Teachers who can’t unpack standards, but try and skip out on long-term planning PD.
Teachers who bore their kids to death during lesson delivery, but threw out that packet of pedagogical engagement techniques they were given over the summer.
Unfortunately, this is commonplace, and it needs to be called out. That mindset is contagious especially among teachers who struggle. And the best way to fight it is by example. Returning to the basketball analogy, you often hear about how the star player is always the first in the gym and the last to leave. The same should be true with teachers. I don’t consider myself a star, but as a veteran teacher, I know that if I am disengaged in PD over the summer, that first-year teacher might be tempted to take the same approach. This doesn’t just extend to teachers either. Administrators and coaches should be a part of the PD they want their teachers to attend as well.
It is important to note that some professional development just isn’t good. We should separate complaints about PD quality from the general moans and groans as best we can. But at the end of the day, teaching is not a stagnant profession and learning on the job is not an option.
Andrew Pillow is a fifth grade social studies teacher at KIPP Indianapolis, a charter school where he has taught since 2011. He is also a former Teach Plus Policy Fellow and he has taught technology and social issues.