Too often teachers are forced to sit through a professional development class that does not apply to the subject and/or grade level they teach. One year, all of my high-school colleagues had to sit through a class on tiered assignments. That, in itself, is not a bad topic for a professional development. What made it a waste of time for all of us is that math, science, social studies, English, language, art, music, and PE teachers were all in the same professional development that presented tiered assignments for a 2nd grade literature assignment.
As English teachers, my department was annoyed, but those of us teaching regular English classes were able to apply the basic idea of the assignment to our curriculum. Even within our department though, far too many teachers had no use for a differentiated lesson. Many teachers only teach AP and college preparation classes. There is no room for differentiation for college bound students because colleges do not differentiate their assignments. To tell you the truth, this is one of my biggest issues with the college students I currently teach. Many of them have never written an essay and are completely lost in College Composition. I often wonder how many of those students had differentiated assignments instead of mandatory essays.
Furthermore, if my English Department had a tough time using a professional development class geared towards 2nd grade literature, can you imagine how the other departments felt? It’s no wonder many of them were caught passing notes and playing games on their phones. (Does that sound familiar? No matter who the students are, if you are not giving them relevant and appropriate student-centered lessons, they will get bored and check out.)
In order for professional development to truly improve teachers, they need to have these elements:
- The person teaching the professional development must be a teacher. Even people who have been out of the classroom for too long, like principals, counselors, coordinators, etc. will not deliver relevant information unless it is to give the teachers behind-the-scenes information so that they are in the loop. Only experienced master teachers will know what teachers need in order to improve their classrooms.
- Each department should have a separate professional development led by people who teach the same subject. The professional development instructor should be able to address all aspects of teaching and courses in that department.
- The majority of time allotted for professional development should include time to apply the new concept/skill/strategy to the classroom. If teachers are not given that time, then the day will be wasted. Teachers do not have time on a normal day to realign their curriculum to a new concept. If the professional development is truly valuable, then the majority of the day must be dedicated to lesson planning and curriculum alignment or else it will be for naught.