Education Matters: Surviving the dreaded faculty meeting

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the subject of group dynamics of children when they are assembled at a time and in a place that is not necessarily of their choosing — like, for instance, in a classroom.

I am less of an expert when grown-ups gather under similar circumstances, like at a faculty meeting, but I do see some interesting parallels.

We teachers, if I may speak for a good number of us, generally dread faculty meetings. They happen once a month, regardless of whether there is something that we need to talk about. The topics covered are often hastily prepared to fill the required hour and a half with announcements that could have been easily dispensed with during the regular working hours. Be that as it may, we dutifully and regularly gather together for our “professional collaboration,” leaning toward the exit before we even sit down.

There are a number of things I miss about teaching now that I’m retired, but sitting through faculty meetings is definitely not one of them. I can still picture a room full of rolled eyeballs (“Why does she insist on asking questions at the end of each meeting, prolonging our agony?”), clock watchers (“Get me out of here”), as well as a bunch of adults acting up like the kids they just got through teaching.

Sitting together and joking with friends, talking during a presentation, drawing pictures, grading papers, passing notes, making wise cracks, nodding off — anything but pay attention to yet another Power Point presentation of statistical charts, or an administrator droning on about tardy policy or some other subject of equally compelling interest.

There were meetings where we teachers were made to draw pictures in little groups about what we wanted our school to look like, and on another occasion we jotted down creative ideas on paper plates, and then, on cue, flew them across the room for others to intercept and “catch the idea.” I can’t begin to recount the many, many hours spent in “professional collaboration” that were utter and complete wastes of time.

In more recent years, we have added “banking days,” non-student days, and at the beginning of each year, “institute days” — all designed to upgrade teaching skills and get us on the “same page.” My question, which I’ve asked before in this space, is why these days were not necessary 20 years ago?

What has happened to our profession that teachers are presently so in need of remediation? Is it their preparation, their inferior education, their lack of dedication, or is it the clientele they serve that has changed so drastically? Most of the teachers I know would have no trouble answering that multiple-choice question.

One of our faculty meetings a few years back featured a gentleman who represented “corporate America,” and he was invited to tell us teachers that we were sending an inferior product out into the workplace in the presence of graduating classes woefully unprepared to meet the requirements of a modern world.

In that world, he said, knowledge was doubling every three or four years, and our students were lagging. Some of us who were directly implicated in this sorry state of affairs tried to get this fellow to differentiate information, which is always in flux, from knowledge, which is acquired over time, and once acquired is timeless in its application.

So many of our other meetings over the years focused on the current pedagogy (educational fad) or, rumor had it, from district administrators exploiting a ready field to test a thesis for their doctorate program. Always, however, the aim was to improve teaching skills and never, never was it about improving parenting skills.

We might have used our collaborations to figure out how best to send out a message to let parents know that their responsibility does not end at the schoolhouse doors where they offload their children.

How about inviting the parents of our successful students to our faculty meetings to affirm what every teacher learned right from the start of a career: Parents who are actively involved with their children’s learning, who talk together at the end of a school day, who share their wisdom right along with their curiosity, who know that a sound body contributes to a sound mind, who insist on encouraging the potential of young minds rather than allowing apathy to infect them, and who take seriously the responsibility of not just raising their children, but providing guidance as well.

Now that would be a faculty meeting I’d gladly attend.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.

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