Messy Professional

BC ED Plan Advertisement or a boot to the head

So the script (narrative) for the advertisement I ran into (while streaming CTV shows I missed) goes something like this: BC teachers are doing a very good job. BUT. Our students deserve the best to prepare them for a changing world. How students learn has changed. We need to change our teaching practices to meet the needs of the 21st Century. The government needs to ensure that professional development days really are used in such a way that they can meet this challenge. We need to put students first. 

It would seem that no right thinking person could argue with any of the above ideas. Heck, I mostly agree with them. I find it funny, and not in a ha, ha kind of way, that I am going to be on a ‘withdrawal of services’ (we aren’t allowed to call it a strike) for ideals I believe in.

Back to the advertisement:

1. Take a look at the image below. The image runs while the narrator informs us that world has changed, that teaching has to change, too. The conversation taking place in the education field is that the sage on the stage style of education does not create the kind of lasting learning and engagement that we need. Recently, I read this article on a Harvard professor who has changed his teaching to address this issue and I think it captures it nicely. I blogged about it here last month. Here is another blog by a West Vancouver Superintendent of Schools, Chris Kennedy, that also discusses how teaching is changing. Here is another blog I wrote about how I think we should not be too quick to throw out the sage on the stage.

Here’s one of my worries. When the Government talks about how education needs to change, we need to be very careful that we are not talking about many, many more students taking courses online, in isolation. It can be great in some situations for some students, but the best learning is collaborative and socially constructed. Nothing about learning has changed. The spaces and the resources and some of the skills are different, but good learning and teaching are as old as the hills.

2. The Government is telling us that teachers need to develop the skills to help students in the 21st Century. Yes, Pro-D days are one aspect of our learning, and critical. One of the areas that we are in disagreement over is teacher control of professional development. The Government would like to have control over what we do. Teachers have long said that we know what we need, just get out of our way and let us do it. A good team functioning at a well-run school will be making these decisions together some of the time.

Now here is some irony; look at the image above. In the advertisement the teacher walks out of the classroom and sits down at this desk to receive her professional development. Apparently how the teacher in the top image is teaching the students is no good, but then she heads off to her Government controlled professional development. This man teaches her how the ‘new’ teaching should look, by teaching her in the ‘old’ style way. Also, she reads a book (below). Love it.

The absolutely best professional development happens…..wait for it….. in a lot of ways, just like all learning. Sometimes, we listen to an accomplished educator in her or his field. Sometimes we read a book. Sometimes, we stand in the hallway of the school and chat with a colleague. Sometimes we organize workshops after school. Sometimes, we engage in research-in-action projects. Always, we are learning as work with students.

Many of us, teachers, administrators, parents and trustees, are now engaged in 21st Century professional development through the blogosphere and the twittersphere. It is the most exciting advancement in my own professional development. It has accelerated my own learning incredibly. This year, I am blogging every single day as part of my professional development. I learn when I write.

I don’t need the Government to ensure I am using my professional development days properly. I am developing professionally, every day, all day.

If some teachers are not using their 5 days appropriately, their supervisors need to deal with it. That is not my job, and I should not pay the price for them not doing their job.

Also, this drive toward improvement in education is not this Government’s fresh idea. Incredible work is already being done across the world, and we are talking to each other every day.

3. One of the images that I did not manage to capture from the advertisement was when the teacher’s book in the image above turns into a computer. The Government informs us that they want to give us the training and the resources we need to move education forward.

This is another moment in the advertisement when I have to breathe. Teachers and administers across the province have fought for every dime we can to integrate technology into classrooms and schools. PACs have fundraised at bake sales to get more technology. It is not as if the Government has been trying to get us to use it and we have been reluctant.

We don’t have enough money, enough time, enough teacher-leaders released from classrooms to help other teachers get up to speed. Most of us are doing it off the side of our desk, and with our own money.

In my classroom right now, I have students using my Mac laptop to make movies, students using my iPod to listen to audio books, students watching lectures from MIT, movies, TV shows and audio books I have purchased with my money through iTunes. I maintain and pay for several Web 2.0 tools (sometimes Voice Thread, Bitstrips for Schools, two class blogs/websites).

Of course, teachers supply a lot of old school technology with their own money as well. I give out at least 10 pencils a day. My baskets are full of high lighters, glue sticks, pencil crayons, felt pens, craft supplies, coloured paper. I have a back book shelf loaded with books that I have purchased for my classroom. I am not alone in this.

4. Finally, the Government ad suggests we put students first. Yes, indeed. I agree. It is the suggestion that we are not doing this already in so many ways that concerns me. Of course, there are teachers, administrators and EAs that are not doing this. But, the vast majority of teachers, administrators and EAs are, as well they should.

We do need to put students first. We need to know what they need to learn best, we need to figure out how to help them develop their passions, we need to listen to their voices, we need to teach students, not curriculum. Of course. Assessment for learning, integration of technology, assistive technology, differentiated instruction, project-based learning, authentic products…. we have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn. Giving teachers more time in the day to learn these skills does not seem to be on the agenda because it would cost too much money. However, it is not because we don’t want this time.

Education is messy, complicated, hard, wonderful, exciting. It is a great profession to be in, especially when we are all working together, focusing on the good work that is being done, being a team that is focused on doing the best we can for students. A team.

At a very basic level, this kind of advertisement is pure propaganda. The Government has to figure out how to spin this “withdrawal of services” better than the BCTF. Both groups are engaged in a PR war now, and the Government needs to make us look bad. I love it when my leadership, in the form of advertisements and sound bites, treats my hard, passionate work like a political football. It feels like a boot to the head.

Of course, the BCTF wants us to look the best we can. There are aspects to how we train, certify and supervise teachers that need modification. However, I would ask you to remember that teachers do no hand out degrees, nor do we hire, and nor do we supervise. If we are hiring people not suited to the profession, that problem started long before the person is part of a collective agreement.

I am sure there are steps in the contract that need some work. Neither side should have absolute power – that’s the point of collective bargaining. Let’s get to work on that.

The really unfortnuate part is that the Government has tied this topic of 21st Century learning to the labour dispute.

There are many, many more things to write about and clarify. That’s it for today, though. The sun is shining, my family is waiting.

12 Comments

  1. Blair

    Thanks for posting your thoughts. Exactly how I feel when seeing this ad. It is clearly intended to lay the blame for any failings at the feet of teachers and that I can’t swallow. What perplexes me is that a majority of teachers I know work daily to become better at what they do as professionals using many of the strategies you’ve identified. I don’t believe my experience is unique. It also seems disingenuous to want teachers to be part of providing feedback on the plan when it is pointing the finger at our practice.

    Love the title of the blog. Teaching and learning are definitely messy, which in these times is inconvenient for those who’d like to define it in very black/white and good/bad terms. Keep it messy:)

    • kinden

      Thanks, Blair, I appreciate your comments. I work with very engaged professionals. Some teachers are not yet integrating technology, but they are incredibly engaged with their students and hard-working. I believe that change in our school has been most effective teacher-to-teacher. Someone learns something and then we share it with our colleagues through casual conversations, department meetings, a PLN, or staff-meetings. We really need the time, the technical support and the money for new technology -I don’t think that is part of their plan.

      You are right – there is no black and white. It is disappointing when the ads make it look so simple. Anyway, good luck next week. I hope all goes well where you are.

  2. I have to agree with Blair. The whole thing is set up to blame teachers for when things go to hell in a hand basket. From the funding to setting up the BCTF as the evil uncooperative union, to what needs to be done under the @bcedplan.

    When everything goes South in the next 5 – 10 years teachers will be left holding the bag, while George and Christy are drinking Margaritas on some beach in Mexico, living off their gold plated pensions.

    JMHO

    • kinden

      Thanks, Keith. I am also worried where the @bcedplan will take us if they mean to create more and more DL without high levels of oversight, teacher involvement, and best-practice. I think that really good 21st Century learning will take a greater investment in schools, technology, and training. I don’t think that’s their idea.

  3. Cindy

    Over the past few weeks the question “Why now?” has been asked. I do have an answer to that question but have avoided raising the idea lest I be accused of conspiracy theory; however, the images in the ad seem to support my ideas. Over the past several decades, the numbers of females in the profession have increased and we know that governments have tended to attack those groups made up of mostly women. Notice that the teachers are women being instructed by a man – this is a feminist/gender issue!

    On the funding issue: I worry about the students who don’t have access to technology (BYOT) – the ones who don’t have pencils now. How will they cope? We can’t find enough computer access for them to word process final copies of essays, let alone draft, create, revise and learn to use new technologies.

    Great post, Kelley! I’m glad we’re colleagues!

    • kinden

      I have to say my feminist hackles went up, way up, as I watched the female teacher sit down to receive her instruction from the man in a suit. Who does the man represent? Who does she represent?

      It is certainly my impression that the pattern seems to be that men move out of a profession, and women move in. Then, that profession becomes less valuable to society.

      I noticed today that the ad did not run once in the 2 hours I worked at my computer.

      I am going to work some more on this area – perhaps in a blog post. I’ll get back to you. Thanks for commenting and see you on the picket line!

    • Catherine Alpha

      I totally agree with you Cindy!

  4. T James

    Well said, Kelley. Awesome to have you as a colleague too :-) You know exactly how I feel about this ‘plan’, so just a thumbs up to your critical thinking.

    (see you on the line tomorrow!)

  5. Thanks so much for your blog. The first time I saw the ad, while I was trying to enjoy the hockey game, I felt sick to my stomach. I was especially upset about the ProD. I’ve been a teacher since 1977, including 10 years as a TOC when I changed districts and had 3 small children. During that time I paid for childcare, paid my own fees and didn’t get paid for ProD days. I was about 52 years old when I began the Teaching and Learning In a Tech. Environment program at SFU. While it didn’t come easy to me, I felt it was important to learn how to use tech. and how to incorporate it into my teaching. I am not alone. I feel I have earned the right to choose when and how I do ProD. WE added those ProD days to the school year years ago and we should be treated as professionals.

    “…teachers do no hand out degrees, nor do we hire, and nor do we supervise. If we are hiring people not suited to the profession, that problem started long before the person is part of a collective agreement.” Again, well said.

    • kinden

      Thanks for your comments – and well said. Although it was not easy for me to express myself in a public forum on a topic like this, I really could not be silent once I saw the ad, and read the Bill C-22. I had a similar physical reaction. I feel very strongly about Professional Development, especially since we all have different teaching situations and years of experience. Our time is precious, and we don’t need any of it wasted on Pro-D from above that doesn’t suit our needs. I am worried where all this will land. I am afraid we have some very stressful months ahead of us. I appreciate hearing about your incredible committment to your learning and your students. Take care of yourself during these tough times.

  6. kelly, thank you for this powerful post. the complex dynamics and relationships embedded in the classroom is indeed messy and beautiful.

    the notion that “those who can’t, teach” is a fallacy. good teachers have the ability to respond to the needs of his/her students and adapt practice accordingly. this is one of the hallmarks of sound teaching that will never change.

    i learn everyday from my students, my colleagues, and my own practice. part of what makes our jobs so invigorating is the perpetual learning curve.

    my professional development, defined by another is an insult to all that we do…not because we have to but because we are compelled to. i’m a teacher…learning is my business.

    thanks!

    • kinden

      Hey, Cindy – sorry it took so long to get back to you. I feel the same passion and joy in the constant learning. It is a little harder right now. I am trying to get that soaring feeling back, but …. I love the comment about Pro-d. Keep your chin up.

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