New Gig, New Digs – Fort Wayne #2

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So, I’m already off my previously announced schedule….but I have an excuse!

Yesterday, I woke up in my new city for the first time.  I didn’t sleep all that well, but it wasn’t for a lack of physical comfort.  C and V provided a very cozy queen bed with an excessive amount of plush pillows.  I had some issues on my mind, and I was also worried I would oversleep for my first day.  Sidebar: For someone who gets up every day around 7 am, I sure do worry a lot about missing my alarm!

C was frying bacon, and V eventually offered me an egg as well.  Over medium, I think.  It’s funny—I used to sell eggs on the reg, but I really only eat them scrambled.  I waited far too long to try eggs another way…and this blog is tanking quickly.

Got to school and met a few more faculty.  Someone bumped a round folding table, causing it to tip over, which meant lots of hot coffee spread everywhere.  Thankfully, no once was seriously injured and even more importantly, no electronic devices were damaged.

It was a day full of presentations and welcome-back information.  I would wager that a small number of people can tolerate sitting in a large room listening to a guest speaker for hours on end without letting intrusive thoughts or shiny objects arrest their actual attention.  Teachers, in my opinion, are the worst at this.  We love school so much that we dedicate our lives to being in (at least, some version of) the classroom and not pursue other avenues that meet our professional interest.  However, when invited to professional development, we are often subjected to sitting for hours on end with nothing more than room-temperature water or stale tortilla chips to keep us from running outside into traffic.  That is, of course, unless the presenter is engaging.

While the speaker yesterday had many good comments and ideas, her presentation lacked something which I feel is absolutely (ironically) required:  constant (and REAL) interaction with the audience.  Her slides were projected onto two enormous screens, but this took place in a gymnasium and the people by the back doors were a good thirty yards away.  She constantly made reference to how she knew no one could read the content of her slides and said at least half a dozen times that she’d email them to us.   [Sidebar:  Many presenters do not produce printouts anymore, I feel, not just because of the cost, but also for the notion that many attendees leave them behind, discard them immediately, or (probably) file them somewhere deep in their work-space.  However, sending them via email is often an empty promise and/or might as well go straight to the SPAM folder.]

She was knowledgeable and funny at times, but it all seemed so depressingly rehearsed.  Comedians have to sell jokes to new audiences several times a week, and the really good ones have a way of making it seem like each night is the first time they’ve told those jokes.   More than once, her delivery on a pseudo-punchline reminded me of Robin Williams’ voices.  Is it odd that my focus was on her delivery and not what she was actually saying?

But we were simply not engaged.  And that’s a major problem.

Why?

Because we became the students.  More precisely, we were teachers who were put in to role of students.  A large, echoing room.  An intelligent presenter.  Visual aides.  Several questions posed by said presenter.  An offer or two to answer any questions.

But it wasn’t engaging.  We had very little time to interact with one another.  It would be uncouth to have a conversation with a colleague while the presentation went on.

This is not the first time I’ve attended such an in-service.    What I find the most alarming about all of this is that teachers can often times be the worst “students”.  We ask so much of those who attend our classes, yet so many of us shy away from initiating dialogue and meeting new professionals at these types of engagements.  Every time I go to one of these seminars, presentations, conferences, etc. I see the same thing:  Teachers who are over-the-top with enthusiasm (a very small percentage), some who have come with an enormous amount of other stressors and use that event to unload a lot of their pent-up anger, and the ones who attend with the least possible amount of interest.

The last category is the most worrisome to me.

I have had the luxury to attend those that identify this setup as severely problematic.  After seeing it done this way (providing a fluid combination of humor, interaction, and information with the obvious goal of keeping us attentive and involved), I’ve realized how absolutely vital that is to education.

Teachers should know that students learn in different ways.  We should know that presenting in the “classic” lecture style is really only beneficial to a small percentage of students.  We should know when our students are bored or disengaged and we should work to fix that.

That’s it for today.  I’m at my in-laws with my family for the weekend.  Look for the next entry in a couple days.  Soon, I’ll write something about how if blog posts, articles, etc. go beyond a certain word count that very few will read it to the end.

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