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There is a lot of discussion these days of the need for better evaluation of teacher performance. Everyone agrees that professional development is key to ensuring effective teaching. The nature and content of PD is one of the important issues being discussed in current contract negotiations.
In October 2010, the Professional Issues Committee of the BTU solicited feedback to the ‘elevator question' posed to Dr. Irvin Scott, Chief Academic Officer, BPS. The question was:
"If you had 30 seconds on an elevator with Dr. Scott, what would you tell him about professional development offered by Boston Public Schools?"
Replies came from every level, including early childhood through high school, and SPED, SEI, and ELL teachers. Almost every discipline was represented including vocational education. Below is a summary of their feedback. Their quotes bring to life some of our members insights and frustrations.
Teachers crave quality PD but find the quality extremely uneven.
“I LOVE good quality PD that helps me grow as a teacher. There is too little of it in Boston.”
“I have experienced the range in Boston…from excellent to extremely poor.”
Most teachers currently value district-driven PD over school-based PD, but would like to see school-based PD change.
“What is advertised as PD is often nothing more than a glorified staff meeting where the Headmaster is giving administrative information that could better be handled in an email or memo. None of it ‘develops’ my ‘profession.’ “
“I would like to see more good ‘school based’ PD, rather than have to seek it outside my building.”
“PD should be all about being a better teacher for our kids. Being lectured to about quiet lines in the hallway and fire drill procedures is a waste of my PD time.”
“Some principals don’t know the difference between Professional Development and standing up in front and ‘lecturing’ to us as though we are naughty children.”
“The best PD for me has been outside of my school – through the CLD, Advancing Practice Courses, courses offered by local colleges, etc. In-house PD is nothing more than a staff meeting.”
Teachers need to be consulted about what topics should be addressed in their PD time.
“What my principal THINKS I need for PD is not what I KNOW I need.”
“Ask teachers want they want for PD. Then find good teachers in BPS who are experts in this area to teach courses. (Top down does nothing for one’s morale.) “
The quality of the instructor is key. Many are not very good, lack understanding of the kinds of issues teachers need help with and are condescending and disrespectful.
“The best PD I have ever participated in was facilitated by classroom teachers who are doing my job. They understand the challenges we face daily and offer practical solutions rather than platitudes. These teachers respect what we do and treat us as colleagues who have something to offer in our own right.’’
“Professional Development is only as good as the instructor. I think I could get a lot more out of it if the instructors were not so darn boring.”
“Many of the PD trainers treat experienced teachers with little respect and are too ‘rule bound’ in their approach.”
Training for SPED AND ELL were particularly singled out for criticism.
Many, many teachers were quite put off by the ELL Category trainings and called it the worst PD they ever experienced in their careers. There was not one positive comment about the category trainings. There were too many responses to print here, but here is the gist:
“A cattle round-up.” “Disorganized; sacrificed quantity for quality.” ”The research in the Category trainings is very dated.” “The Category trainers know absolutely nothing about adult learners.” “Boring, no new learning, forced participation.”
There were many comments from SPED teachers who felt that school based PD just did not meet their needs and that the SPED Department offers nothing useful or relevant beyond PECS and Boardmaker.
From several teachers of children with autism:
“There is barely any training in this area. We need specific trainings related to our growing and changing field. Another 2 hours of Writers’ Workshop PD is a huge waste of my time, when our students are working on sitting, looking, holding pencils, and tracing.”
“We need more PD that focuses on children with severe disabilities.”
“The SPED department needs a complete overhaul in the way they approach PD.”
“Most SPED PD is awful and insulting to teachers who could offer better PD if asked.”
“The idea of ‘scaffolding’ the regular third grade curriculum is just ridiculous when I spend half my day toileting children and teaching them eating skills and the most basic of communication skills. Boston is REALLY in the dark in this area.”
There were some significant positive call outs:
Several Science teachers wrote to say that the PD offered by the Science Department is the best they have ever had:
“Relevant.” “Engaging.” “Hands-on.” “We are treated with respect and collaboration…not talked down to”. “Keep it going”.
Beginnning Teacher Seminars also came in for praise:
“I am a third year teacher in Boston and the best PD I have attended were the Beginning Teacher Seminars at Madison Park that were offered by the New Teacher Developers Office. The information was pertinent and to the point. I learned things at every session that I could immediately use in the classroom.”
“I never felt that I was wasting my time and enjoyed meeting new first year teachers who were facing the same struggles as I was.”
Many kudos for “My Learning Plan.” Several folks wrote that they felt it was professionally administered and was meeting their needs around offerings and keeping track of personal information. Quick response time was also cited.
Several elementary teachers were pleased with the Math Department offerings and praised both the new learning and the professionalism of the facilitators.
A few Early Childhood teachers wrote to say that they felt the PD offered by the Early Childhood Department was beneficial.
We can all draw conclusions from this valuable input. It appears that teachers in BPS are craving good, relevant, professionally designed Professional Development that is teacher driven and presented by knowledgeable colleagues.
Thank you, Dr. Scott, for listening to us.
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