Harry: Yeah, I called her up. She gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to her, or something. I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying attention.
—Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Last week, most of the teachers in Baltimore City returned to work. They spent some time putting their classrooms back together (most rooms get taken completely apart during the summer for floor waxing and other maintenance), they began planning for putting together lessons, they took care of a hundred other details. And, in between all of that, there was professional development. The principals put together a few things that they’d like to concentrate on this year, and there were sessions based on those. If, for instance, you have a youngster in Baltimore City schools this year, look for the word “rigor” to pop up a lot. Also, “attendance”. Schools all over the city took a beating on attendance last year, partly because of the H1N1 flu and partly because of the snow, but Baltimore also seems to have a culture on attendance not being that important. If for no other reasons than it could mean literally thousands of dollars that go directly to your child’s school, it’s very important.
In addition to the professional development sessions that the individual schools put together, there were also city-wide PD sessions that were created by the folks at the Puzzle Palace. I didn’t create one, but a few of my counterparts did, and I helped present it to special education teachers. All thirteen of us in the Networks office teamed up with someone from another office (most of them were from the Nonpublic office) to ensure that the overwhelming majority of special education teachers were given PD on the changes to special education policies and procedures in the wake of the consent decree’s ending, and a new initiative for writing IEP goals and objectives called “One Year Plus”.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of One Year Plus except to suggest that it’s really a common-sense kind of thing, in my head: if you have a boatload of details regarding a student’s current level of academic achievement and functional performance, then you should be able to write appropriate goals and objectives for that student. We all have boatloads of data; we just don’t always document that data. So the key to One Year Plus is documenting the data. This is at the heart of the PD session I presented last week.
I had four groups with which I worked over the two-day period. One of them was incredible: they were interested, they were dedicated, they were smart, and they were genuinely able to grasp the concept and see that there was a concerted effort to present this as a true city-wide initiative. The other three groups were a mixed bag. One woman actually fell asleep twice (TWICE), so there’s an interesting way of expressing your opinion.
Because part of my presentation was supposed to take place on-line (a little hands-on training session in using some software), I worked in a computer lab. The room looked much like the one to the right, but let me note that this is NOT the room I was in. However, it’s important to get a handle on the layout of the room before I can tell this little tale. So picture this room with two tables in the middle, several feet apart. Got it? Good. Now, because the room is lined with computers, naturally the early arrivals grab a terminal and want to check email or some such. And really, who am I to complain about that? As long as you’re engaged during the session, do as you like before it starts.
So one woman came in before a session and sat in a corner of the room. She broke out her own laptop, fired it up and then connected it to the City Schools network using her own cord and an available network jack. When we began working, however, she left the laptop in the corner with the lid open. Well…okay. So long as you’re with us.
The problem was, she didn’t stay with us. At one point, about a half-hour into the session, I asked the participants to read a passage and then discuss it in small groups. Instead of reading the piece, she abandoned it on the table and went to her laptop, and started to surf the web. Now, if you’re sitting in a corner of the room with your back to everyone else, all of whom are sitting by the tables in the center, that’s going to catch my attention sooner rather than later. This holds especially true if the entire group (not counting me and my partner) is composed of only nine people.
I walked up to her and stood behind/to the left of her, essentially reading over her shoulder. I didn’t say anything; I just waited for her to sense my presence. This took at least a full minute. Finally, she turned around and looked up at me. I said to her quietly, “You know…your school isn’t good enough that you can afford to be over here.”
“Huh?” she cleverly replied.
“You need to be over there,” I said to her.
“Oh. Sorry,” she said, and she moved to the table.
A moment later, I think what I’d said had finally sunk in. She called me back over to the table. “What was that about my school not being good enough?”
I said to her, “I’ve been to [School XYZ]; I know what kind of reputation they have.”
“Have you been there in the last three years?”
“Oh yeah. There’s been improvement, but there’s still a ways to go.”
Now, this was all done sotto voce; I wasn’t calling her out in a public fashion. Anyway, I’d already engaged this argument much longer than I’d intended to, so at this point I simply walked away to let them finish what they were working on. But she wasn’t done with it. She kept trying to call me back and I kept ignoring her, assisting the people who were working on what they were supposed to be doing. A minute later she broke out a “smart” phone and began furiously texting to someone. Meh, whatever.
I will say this: when she participated, she did a great job, so more’s the pity that she couldn’t let this go. She gave me the stink eye the rest of the session, even when I kept referring back to good points she’d made, and noting immediately when she’d said something that everyone else could benefit from. Nevertheless, when we got to the end of the session, and I handed out the evaluation forms, she couldn’t wait to get her hands on it.
Comments on these forms are rather rare; I’d say about 20-25% of the participants will write something on the forms unless things go especially well or especially poorly.
But needless to say, it was pretty easy to find hers. This is a paraphrasing but it’s pretty close: “He unprofessionally insulted me and the reputation of my school.”
Here’s the thing, though: she’s rather a trusting soul, given that she has to hand the completed form BACK TO ME, with the expectation that I’ll review it (or not) and then turn it in to the folks at the Puzzle Palace without A) destroying it, and/or B) replacing it. I did neither, but I did take the time to point it out to someone and give them the story behind it.
So if my calling her out on failing to pay attention and participate in this exercise was unprofessional of me, then how would she classify her own behavior? And, more importantly…
How does one “professionally” insult a person and the reputation of their school?