May 3, 2014

Professional Development

This week we got our PDP certificates for the past two years - fancy looking pieces of paper saying how many hours the school provided us with professional development. I have no idea how I got 42 in 2011-2012 yet only 26 in 2012-2013, but truthfully they don't count for much. I've been taking a course a semester (mostly online) since I last renewed my license so I'll have more than enough hours/credits when I renew next. The certificates list the big categories of PD but I was really hoping they would list all the initiatives we have been run through lately. Being a turnaround district (the district is classified by the state as not meeting adequate yearly progress, we are level 4, level 5 is state takeover) means that there's a new direction we're pulled in every week.

Writing initiative - we made a school-wide writing rubric (rubrics are totally overwhelming to me, there's a paragraph in every single box, there is absolutely no way I'm going to read 15 paragraphs for every kid to see where they fall) and now are required to give a writing assignment every quarter. I've gotten away with "find and explain" questions so far where students write in math appropriate ways rather than writing essays about whether they should have to do homework. I think justification and reflection are both essential skills and am glad that no one is questioning why my students aren't writing paragraphs. We also were encouraged (basically required) to make one of our evaluation goals student improvement on the writing prompts. That was a waste of what should have been a good opportunity for everyone to think about a personal goal.

MCAS - I'm not sure why I get PDP's for watching kids take a test, but thanks? In past years I've been a familiar face administrator - kids with anxiety get a proctor who they know. I loved feeling helpful simply by being in the same room as a kid. This year I'm in a general ed room, not as rewarding, just as boring.

Department Meetings - these are great most of the time. I have an amazing department head and a good department overall. We are low drama, practical people. We try to make the best of whatever mandates are sent down and everyone has good ideas to contribute. We have high turnover but still manage to have enough stability to make progress.

Curriculum Writing - last year and this year we have been putting all the courses into Atlas, a website where you answer a variety of questions for each unit. It's been good for starting course specific conversations; there needs to be a rationale as well as other useful things to unify like vocabulary terms. We also had some time to look at the common core standards to make sure we're covering them all somewhere, which led to some nice conversations about what the essentials are in each course and what vocabulary and notation we should be using throughout the grades. The way administration is using it isn't fun - the school committee decided that teachers can't write benchmarch tests so we now pay a company (who is so awful I won't even link them, they're new and writing problems as we ask for them rather than having a database of good material to choose from) to write quarterly exams. Kids are assessed on wherever we said we'd be in the curriculum, regardless of snow days or time lost to taking these tests. I can't count how many times we've said this year "We'd like to do ___ but the map says ___" I'm not sacrificing important investigations or all the fun stuff, but I have lost a substantial amount of class time this year so I've skipped some non-essential topics. Things I used to like to do are being replaced by tests that tell me what I already know - I assess my students constantly, if you want data all you have to do is ask. But I'm not bitter or anything.

Look. Pretty pieces of paper. They make everything all better.

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