Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Sneaking a Puff of Professional Development

By on February 12, 2010

I’m at CATE this weekend (California Association of Teachers of English) as both presenter and attendee. I’m doing two sessions: one on Internet Literacy (based on my recent workbooks) and one in a panel of Writing Project teachers on a sampling of 21st Century skills. But I’m really here to recharge my batteries by learning, sitting in the audience of linked convention center chairs, listening and chatting, typing and scribbling. Anyway, while chatting, I’ve asked a number of teachers the question of who paid for the registration for their attendance. More and more often the answer is “I’m taking this as a sick day.”

These common responses got me thinking that maybe professional development should be considered a new form of contraband. These teachers are sneaking their professional development, lying to their schools about where they are, as if they were meeting for some fight club.

Will scalpers one day offer 2fer tickets to the Marriot convention center? Will shwag soon be available on eBay for those teachers who weren’t brave enough to make the covert exodus to their local PD opportunity? Will the street value of learning one day be enough to break someone’s bank?

What a shame that for the powers that be, there is such distance from the reality of teaching that we have to educate ourselves secretly. What a shame that we must go underground, use the days that we might use for our own health to become better teachers. What a shame that we aren’t encouraged to get better at our craft in an age where we are criticized for our level of craft. Hum. I’m not sure the message that is being sent here.

Does society want teachers to get better or not?

Yet we are actually discouraged to improve by the lack of support for professional development. Yet still we creep to these workshops and conferences like people seeking to worship in the basements of ghettos. (OK, so I got a little hyperbolic with that one.) Is this not a sign at the importance of our professional development, that we’re willing to make this illegal journey to convention centers all over the country at our own expense? At the possibility of reprimand?

Isn’t it ironic that, frankly, many principals understand the need, but with their hands financially tied, they grant us permission to travel but with fingers in their ears, saying “I can’t hear you!” over and over as they encourage us to use OUR hours and days for our own growth.

For our own growth. Did I just write that? This isn’t about our growth. Society likes to pretend that our need for PD is about us and our weaknesses. But it’s really about our clientele and making us stronger. For when I learn, THEY grow. That’s the point, is it not? Yet we’re discouraged from helping them because society has become prejudiced that the by-product of our own enjoyment of learning somehow makes them suspicious as to our intent.

Heaven forefend that we actually enjoy learning. For if we enjoy learning, won’t that increase our chances of passing that love onto our students? Is not this willingness to sneak a puff not true dedication to our craft?

So let me confess something. I’m addicted. I’m addicted to learning as much as any addict to a drug. I’m addicted to improving my craft, working outside my comfort zone, and stretching for strategies to reach the students in ways that I know will touch a greater slice of my clientele. I’m such an addict that you can’t stop me.

I’ll go into back alleys to hear Sheridan Blau. I’ll knock on green doors to listen to Jeff Anderson. I’ll pay street value for learning. And if society doesn’t get why they should pay the price tag for my addiction, then they also clearly don’t understand the price tag they ultimately pay for not feeding my addiction.

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