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Guest blogger Ashley Hermsmeier is a teacher, runner and writer in her sixth year of teaching English at El Capitan High School in Lakeside. In her blog titled, “I Run Because I Teach” she discusses the two aspects of life that simultaneously give her enjoyment and frustration: teaching and running. Here she takes on the topic of teacher training. These are her reflections and opinions, not mine, so if you have burning questions or comments, please contact Ashley via e-mail at email@example.com. Or post a comment here on the blog.
I just got paid to attend a workshop that involved watching and evaluating a DVD “as a favor” to Mark Reardon — a man our district pays very well to lead workshops. These DVDs (which will most likely be sold by Reardon to the district) could potentially take the place of workshop speakers. The idea behind it is to save money by not hiring guest speakers, who can cost up to $3,000 per day. I can appreciate the attempt. But I have an even better solution to save a buck: get rid of these redundant district-run programs and allow teachers more opportunities to work with one another. It will cost less and be more effective.
During my first two years in teaching, I had to go through the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program (BTSA) in order to complete my credential. During that time, I was pulled out of my classroom at least three times a semester to attend workshops and evaluations.
Which brings up the biggest bone I have to pick with the training program: Of all teachers, the new ones should not be pulled out of their classrooms. A new teacher already has enough to worry about without making plans for substitute teachers and dealing with the classroom management issues that come with being out all the time.
At these workshops we learned about the teenage brain, classroom management and motivating struggling learners. Then we learned all these things over and over again from the same speakers — only the workshops were, for some mysterious reason, titled something different. I should also mention that teachers learn these things while earning a teaching credential the year before they are required to do the program.
Today, four years after jumping through those hoops, I can still sign up for a workshop at the district and get paid $25 an hour to relearn all these same strategies. Or, if I want to go on a school day, the district will pay for a substitute to teach my class. Granted, being reminded of certain teaching strategies never hurts. But it takes hours for the presenters to show information that should only take 10 minutes.
It’s an enormous waste of resources, and in the end, few of the strategies make it to the classroom because they are geared for younger learners. Yes, my high school district has sent me to workshops that are made for elementary school teachers.
Currently, we have a literacy program that started this year. Every couple months, over the course of four days, hundreds of teachers throughout the district are pulled from their classrooms to attend a literacy workshop. So far, much of what is presented at these workshops is a regurgitation of information and strategies we already know.
And yet the district is shelling out tremendous amounts of money for the consultants and substitute teachers it requires. And need I remind you, my school still does not have an assistant librarian. Teachers are being asked to take time away from their students to learn about literacy, and yet the actions of the district show they don’t really care about it when they allow a library, and its availability, to suffer in this way.
I learn more from meeting and talking with my colleagues than I do at any of these workshops. That’s why a mandatory once-a-week teacher meeting to plan curriculum is so successful. The meetings are teacher-run. We know what we need from one another and what will benefit the students best. When the district tries to impose something it wants, we usually find it to be out of touch with the classroom reality.
I have a simple, budget-saving solution: Dissolve BTSA and the literacy program. Incorporate them into the teacher meetings we already have in place. The kind of support a new or veteran teacher needs comes from the same place: Real teachers. Not from presenters who have been out of the classroom for 10 years (or more) and don’t know today’s classroom. Or better yet, use the money currently set aside for workshops to allow teachers to once again choose the workshops they want to go to that aren’t district-run.
For example, the California Association of Teachers of English hosts a conference each year, and many of its guest speakers are real teachers. Imagine learning about teaching from someone who is currently teaching!
Unfortunately, I have only gone to one association conference during the six years I have been an English teacher because the district budget won’t allow it. I still have my folder from the conference and use many of the strategies I learned there.
I realize that federal funding often requires the school district to use certain programs and the money can only go toward those programs. That is a problem too.
But it is time for the school board to take the blinders off and look logically at the problems around these programs. Figure out a way to use that money for good, rather than spinning wheels and getting nowhere. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The Grossmont district has shown itself repeatedly to care more about its programs than about its teachers and students.
— ASHLEY HERMSMEIER