Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Professional Development

Seminars in education are a series of rituals designed to stretch out two hours worth of material into a full day of classes.

Today I attend a seminar on how to best teach literary analysis to students who have a hard time reading.

Finding a movie based on the book and showing it to students is not on the list of suggestions.

The first hour, like all first hours at all educational seminars, follows a pattern as predictable as an episode of Home Improvement.

. Tim the Tool Man Taylor makes a fool of himself on his show
. Tim screws things up with his family
. Tim gets advice from Wilson
. Tim screws up the advice
. Tim's family forgives him and all works out in the end

Educational Seminar: Hour 1

. Collect materials, gather in groups, drink coffee while everyone waits to arrive

. Meeting Standards are reviewed: cell phones off, be respectful, don't get side tracked or side barred by argumentative discussion

. VIP from the District Thanks us and lectures about the importance of education

. Inspirational Story about the little kid that could - try not to throw up

. Instructor from LAUSD thanks us for coming and lectures about how great the material, which has yet to be presented to us, actually is.

. Secondary Instructor gushes about how great the material is, which we are still waiting to get to.

. Pair Share with group what we hope to get from the seminar and what problems we have with students

. Share out our findings about what we expect to learn, which are then written onto poster paper and hung on the wall.

. 1 hour and ten minutes later, the lessons begin.

The second part of the seminar unofficially starts when a belligerent teacher asks why we should teach literary analysis when the majority of students in S0pecial Ed can't even read. It's a good question, but in education, its heresy. Ask why a student needs to learn literary analysis and you might as well ask why do they need to learn Shakespeare, or Algebra II, or Chemistry?

Better not to question, public education is a matter of faith.

The morning disappears in a haze of black coffee, a half modeled lesson, and unspoken recriminations silenced through educational dogma.


Time to break for lunch. Two of my co-workers and I find a small sandwich shop run by an Asian couple offering a half sandwich 4 piece sushi special. I opt for the whole sandwich, a ham and cheese on onion.

Few people ever start their careers in Special Ed, it's more like a gravitational black hole that draws people in. I ask both of them what they did before they were Special Ed teachers.

Rafael, calm and collected, speaks first. "I worked at a Juvenile detention center trying to reform kids and teach them how to read."

"How did that go?"

"I got stabbed."


"Once I got a job in LAUSD I couldn't believe how nice it was to have a job where I didn't have to worry about being attacked."

I look over at Heather. She smiles. "I was a taxi-cab driver."

I raise an eyebrow. "A female taxi cab driver?"

"Yeah, I did that for about 5 years. I was one of only two female drivers at a company of about a hundred guys, and the other girl was large. Large and in charge. They all thought I was a prostitute." She laughs, shakes back her hair. "That was before they figured out I had a scanner and was snatching up their customers first."

"Got any stories?" I ask.

"Yeah." Heather replies, guarded. "I worked out of Orange County. One of the best gigs was picking up guys just out of prison. They usually lived far away and they always paid because they didn't want to skip out on cab fare and end up back in jail."

"You picked up guys from prison?" I gasp, incredulous.

Heather shrugs. "It was good money. I drove every kind of person you can imagine."

I nod. "Whoever said crime doesn't pay wasn't a taxi cab driver."

Heather continues. "I once had to take my cats to my boyfriend's, and one of them decided to take a dump on the cab's back seat. I picked up a pair of business travelers and this woman on her way to a meeting sat in cat poop. She started screaming."

"What did you do?"

"Told her I was sorry and explained that my last customer had a cat and that I had no idea his cat had crapped all over the backseat." Heather smiles ruefully. "Compared to driving a cab, Special Ed is cake."

We make our way back, the second part of the seminar begins with the instructor showing us a variety of web site resources we can use for our classroom. This is actually useful, before it's drowned out with another lecture from another District VIP.

Never met an educator who didn't love the sound of their own voice.

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