I’m here to lift the shroud of secrecy surrounding teacher institute day activities. You have to promise to keep this just between us, though, okay?
1. Power Statements. Our mission as a district is stated. Our vision is stated. Goals are discussed. Excellence is encouraged. Powerful statements with unnecessary capitalization are projected: All Students Deserve to Have Seven Periods of Excellent Instruction Every Day.
During these speeches, the faculty thinks about how humid/cold/depressing/stale/bright the meeting room is. They surreptitiously type to-do lists on their phones. Some of them pray for death.
2. Smarty-Pants Words. A fancy new word within the context of the mission/vision/goal/excellence statement is presented to pique the faculty’s interest. This year’s word was “arête.” Or maybe it was “aréte.” Or “arete.” Fuck if I know, really. The punctuation was a distraction. It had something to do with excellence, of course, but I wasn’t really listening because my brain was hung up on more pressing issues: “How do you pronounce that word? Are they saying it correctly? What is the etymology? Let’s google this nonsense.”
3. Test Data. First we had NCLB — not to be confused with NKOTB! — and now we have ESSA. They’re both related to goals and data and mastery and maybe growth models and…really, again, fuck if I know. When 99% of the student population is considered “low income,” and they are struggling with all of the problems associated with poverty, their teachers are pretty much giving zero fucks about how well they did on some culturally biased standardized tests. We just want to meet the students tomorrow and start building relationships with them. Without positive relationships, limited learning will occur.
Oh — and ESSA stands for Every Student Succeeds Act, which may be the biggest load of crap of all time. The act, and its requisite standardized testing, is stacked against children of color and all children living in poverty. When students are struggling with PTSD, hunger, toothaches, lack of reading glasses, pre-diabetes, and a justified fear of crime, they’re not going to do well on an exam written by and for affluent white people.
4. Professional Work Space Nonsense. A teacher’s classroom is her kingdom and all sorts of shenanigans occur for the good of the holy box in which she works. Veteran teachers request “better” classrooms than younger teachers. Classroom supplies are hoarded. (One can never have too many Expo markers.) Coveted desk chairs and new-ish student desks are shuffled from room to room. Boxes of candy are left for the Laminating Lady in the library in an effort to get their posters laminated first. Everyone stops by to say hello to the head secretary and director of maintenance because nothing — truly nothing — will get done without their blessings or assistance.
5. See You In Three Months! Conversations. High schools are like small cities. Within my particular school, 1,800 children walk through our doors and 200 adults work together to try to make it a pleasant day for them. As a result, I have a few acquaintances with whom I have a lovely rapport, but who I very seldom ever see.
One such colleague is a PE teacher named Erin whose last name is similar in spelling to mine. We sit next to each other at parent-teacher conferences every October and February and always have lovely chats about our families, our hobbies, and recommended travel destinations. I saw Erin today, we smiled and hugged and then both laughed when I said, “Okay, I’ll see you again in October!” This is no joke. For how much movement there is within a school, many of us seldom cross paths. The institute days remind me of how isolating the profession is sometimes.
6. Impatience. We want the institute days to end so that we can get to the real point of the profession: meeting our students. It doesn’t matter how many years one has been teaching, we were all still excited and nervous. It is an honor to teach other people’s children and we can’t wait to begin the journey with them.
As always, thank you for reading, friends.
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