The start of school is a time when districts have their teachers begin work a couple of days before students arrive with the purpose of getting everyone focused on teaching at their full potential.
It’s a time when superintendents bring in guest speakers to motivate the troops and principals encourage their teaching staffs to believe that every student can succeed. Last year’s grades are in the books, with the new year providing opportunities for a fresh start.
It’s akin to baseball’s spring training or football’s training camp, where every team tells the media that it has a legitimate chance of winning the championship.
However, does spending money on all-day faculty meetings impact student learning?
When I set out to write this column I was prepared to criticize the use of dwindling education funds to hire a guest speaker to use up precious hours of teachers’ time in coming back to work.
In my 25 years of attending these meetings, there have been plenty of duds. Teachers often feel numb listening to people talk and as a result, start daydreaming about preparing their classrooms with books, supplies, and photocopies.
But after hearing this year’s keynote speaker, Bill Daggett, founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education, I have to say that the Glendale Unified School District brass deserve credit.
While several attendees I spoke with were not pleased with the criticisms Daggett leveled at teachers, his knowledge of what’s going on in the world of education and ways for teachers to deal with the changes was worth contemplating.
Of course, no matter how talented the speaker may be, the human mind can only listen for so long before one’s brain cramps.
Despite a 15-minute break, teachers sat placidly in their auditorium chairs for nearly four hours, ritually changing right leg over left leg and back again in order to minimize the painful, needle-like sensation that occurs when circulation is at a minimum. It is a lot to ask of folks who have just returned from their summer break.
Daggett informed me that he does about 100 speaking engagements a year. When asked how he knows whether his speeches have any positive effect on student learning, he said that his company examines data from the schools or districts that he visits.
I also spoke with a school official about the efficacy of such a large meeting. She acknowledged that there might be few immediate dividends, but added that it’s nice to begin the school year by having all kindergarten through 12th grade teachers together in one place.
So there seems to be no sure way of knowing how much impact these enormous gatherings have on the job teachers do in the classroom.
When all is said and done, there is nothing wrong with district administrators posing lofty ideals for their teacher corps, just as educators set high expectations for the young people they teach.
Still, the one district kickoff meeting I would love to see before I retire is for opening remarks to be limited to 30 minutes, climaxing with the superintendent exclaiming loudly into the microphone, “Teachers, start your engines,” then allowing teachers to decide what best to do with their time in order to get ready for their students.
BRIAN CROSBY is a English and Journalism teacher at Hoover High. He is the author of Smart Kids, Dumb Schools and The $100,000 Teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.