Gloria Steinem famously quipped, “The truth will set you free . . . but first, it will piss you off.” Hopefully, this will stir some emotions in any of my former colleagues who may still read me from time to time. I’m saying what you can’t so print this out and leave where the “right people” can find it. Because, my teacher and librarian friends, TADA! It’s back to school time and that can only mean one thing — days of MEETINGS and, even worse, INSERVICES!!
Probably the most hideous part of any year for a teacher is the “Read the Handbook” Meeting on the first or maybe the second day of school. If you’ve ever taught, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s where the principal gathers everyone together in — usually — the library and serves stale doughnuts and OJ or weak coffee. After a little small talk, he or she says, “We’ve revised some policy this summer so if you’ll open your handbooks . . .” and three hours of droning monotone, the verbal equivalent to the Chinese water torture, begins. Geological ages later when everyone is finally released to get rid of the coffee or OJ borrowed earlier, the only policy change is tennis shoes are now allowed on Fridays with “school spirit related” t-shirts — but still no jeans.
Have principals never heard of this wonderful invention called EMAIL? Anyway, no one really cares about the morning meeting because they are all headed in a mad dash to the two or three restaurants to grab a bite of lunch with their respective cliques so they can get back for a “very important and informative inservice” that will last the rest of the day and most of tomorrow.
Beginning of the year INSERVICES! You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. In my 15 years of mediocre teaching, I dreaded BOY inservices and meeting worse than a proctological exam. At least the doctor gives you a little “magic pill” to reduce the pain and degradation of the experience.
So, for the last few years since I “retired” from teaching, I’ve tried to trace the source of these instruments of the devil and I’ve finally found out enough to publish my findings. I hope you help me pass the truth along so others can be as pissed of as we are at the monumental wasting of our time.
First, we have to consider the birth of the inservice. I’ve concluded from my research that inservices are born out of desperation and/or greed. Some teacher struggling along somewhere puts together a unit or tries a made up classroom management system and — glory be, Jehovah — the dad-blasted thing actually works! It works so well a couple of other teachers on her hall try the idea and, OMG! It works for them as well. This is about the time someone says to the original teacher, “You know, this is SO brilliant! You should write a book or make a DVD lecture series so other teachers all over the world can share in this Red-Sea-parting level miracle of pedagogical genius.” So the teacher does just that very thing and six months to a year later, voila! A brand new educational “idea” is born and marketed as “the next great new thing.”
I was and remain cynically skeptical of any educational “new thing.” I desperately want to see these places where all this amazing teaching and learning takes place. If you dig around long enough, you find the majority of these authors have something in common — their schools aren’t anything like yours. They’ll pitch their goods to “poor” schools because their program was developed “the deep inner city.” Well, technically that’s a true statement but they leave out the part where the school is actually a magnet school or a charter school or something other than a real, live tough as nails inner city school.
Still, all these books would remain on the shelves of professional libraries everywhere for brand new teachers struggling to buy with those first meager paychecks hoping to catch lightning in a bottle if it were not for the second member of this dastardly duo — principals, ap’s, or vp’s. The school or district administration finds these programs and that’s when the trouble starts.
See, here’s the thing about administrators in the majority of schools most people don’t like to talk about — they couldn’t teach. I know of exceptions, but they are exceptions. For the most part, the average assistant principal is a former teacher who was really just not very good in the classroom. Usually, they know this fact about themselves but by the time they get it figured out, it’s four years, a mortgage, a car payment, and a kid or two down the road. They have neither the time nor the money to pursue another career which would need a totally different degree so they scrimp and sacrifice for three semesters and two summers to get their principal’s certificate.
Okay, great for them. I admire them for staying some course, but here’s the problem — once they leave the classroom, they almost immediately forget what it was like being a teacher. To make matters worse, if said AP is good enough at “butts, buses, and books,” he or she is probably going to get a school of her own to run. By this time, you have a person eight to ten years out of the classroom (where they pretty much sucked anyway) but they are making decisions affecting what every teacher in the building is doing!
In a worse case scenario, you have an ex-coach who’s a likeable enough guy but he majored in PE twenty years ago and will gladly talk your ear off about being the backup running back on his high school’s state championship team or about walking on to the Clemson University football program and he actually got in a game in the 4th quarter of a rout and TACKLED someone! Now this guy, who knows much more about whistles than literature, gets word from the district he has to provide X number of hours of inservice for his teachers. So he picks something based on what he saw at a conference or a seminar somewhere. The package was awesome and the presentation was slick and, after all, IT WORKED FOR THEM!! So, we’ll bring everyone in for coffee and doughnuts and drag them eye-rolling and head-shaking through HOURS of what might be an excellent program — IF our school was LIKE THEIRS!!
So there you have it in a nutshell — you have to sit through hours of BOY inservice totally irrelevant to your teaching situation while the whole time you are dying a little inside because “Meet the Teacher” night is two days away and yesterday was the first day you could get into your classroom because the waxing and painting crews from the district ran two weeks behind this summer! You have nothing run off that you need and your room is a mess, but your AP found this “great” program at HIS conference or seminar and showed it to the REST of the administration . . .
So here you are . . . miserable, tuned out, and desperately wanting to get your desk in order so you can be ready to do your JOB on Wednesday when the children (anyone remember THEM?) come back.
Folks, you have my sympathy. Know that, as always, I love y’all.
Keep those feet clean and good luck.