Monday, August 27, 2007

Can you teach old teachers new tricks?

Last week was the Department of Education's "New Teacher Welcome," a three-day event designed to indoctrinate all us new NYC teachers to the methods and madness of NYC public schools. First up was the grand ceremonial welcome for all new teachers at the Javits Center. The invitation said "8:15 SHARP." Being teachers, we should all be punctual, right? No time-wasting for the DOE!

As my students might say: Not. The DOE treated us to the dulcet tones of Songs of Solomon, an uncommonly good "inspirational ensemble" made up of teenagers, and then to the...what's the opposite of "dulcet"?...tones of a marching drum band, also made up of teenagers. For the first hour. On the one hand: Hooray for teenagers! From our public schools! Who play awesome music! And are inspired by great teachers like ourselves! On the other hand: I COULD HAVE SLEPT ANOTHER HOUR.

Then we heard a half-hour of speeches from the likes of Chancellor Joel Klein, followed by...a musical interlude. OK, I could have slept another two hours.

Most rousing speaker: Obviously Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, even though she did make us engage in a supremely uncool call-and-response game during which we dutifully recited, "Call your union rep!" to every question she posed. ("What do you do if you're teaching and the principal enters your room and whacks you over the head with a textbook?" "Call your union rep!")

Least rousing speaker: The poor dude who followed Randi Weingarten, mostly because he insisted on using the word "persistancy." From underneath the dull, droning stupor that was settling into my brain at that point, I thought: "...does he mean persistance?" Yes, yes, he does.

Then we broke out into smaller workshops which concentrated on topics like salary, certification and health benefits. At last! I thought. All my questions will be answered!

Also, a big not. Most of the speakers wasted a good portion of their allotted half-hour by reminiscing about their early teaching days, back when they all got handed a room key/attendance roster/single textbook (the item varied based on the speaker) and were told, "Good luck!", and then their students ate them alive, chewed them up and spat them out and they were expected to teach Chinese even though they majored in studio art and they had 40 kids in their classrooms hanging from the ceiling and they had to walk uphill both ways to school in the snow. But now of course they all love teaching! So much that they left it for careers in the UFT or DOE management. Mmm-hmm. At any rate, the only real concrete piece of information I gleaned from this portion of the day was that when I submit paperwork to the DOE proving that I have a master's degree in order to get my salary raise, I also have to submit a transcript of my bachelor's degree, which I sort of find unreasonably ridiculous because: OF COURSE I HAVE A BACHELOR'S DEGREE. Otherwise, how could I have been hired in the first place? Or, you know, gone on to get a master's? Whatev, DOE, whatev.

I also got to visit the "teacher trade fair" (i.e., land of free stuff), where representatives from Chase Bank literally jumped out of nowhere in front of my path and started chattering about Chase's free checking. So I took my free teacher gift from Staples and scampered.

The Javits Center welcome was followed by a two-day training event at a high school downtown. The less said about that event, the better; I, miss brave, have played hooky from an extremely small number of things in my life, and alas, this event turned out to be one of them. It was literally every single thing that's horrible and wrong about training events all rolled into one enormous turd of a package. It was like, "Work with a partner who teaches a similar subject and grade level to plan a lesson. Oh, there's no one here on your grade level or subject? Then you might as well work with these two other teachers to plan a lesson that incorporates adaptive physical education, 4th grade special ed and K-2 writing! Because that will definitely be helpful real-world experience!" It was like, "Make a chart of your concerns and expectations for the school year" (hmm, my concerns and expectations are pretty much the same thing) "and now we'll share -- oh, look, we're not alone!" And when I said that I was struggling with the idea of how to implement behavior management routines as a cluster teacher without her own classroom, the facilitator talked about how the most important behavior management techniques...hinge on how teachers set up their classrooms. Worst of all, though, we were constantly being lectured on how teachers need to cater to students' different learning styles, and how they can't just stand up in front of the room and talk at their students. Weirdly, none of the facilitators noted the irony in this.

The theme of the event was "All Children Can Learn" (I don't think my math teacher friend has gotten this memo), "All Teachers Can Teach" (reassuring! but true? The jury is still out!).

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