Monday, May 11, 2009

The Professional Development Plan and Other Educational Jokes

The Life Cycle that is public education is almost complete for another year. In seasonal terms we're past the first frost, and the leaves are swirling along the increasingly brown front yard. Winter/Death is almost upon us, and never has Death been so frantically anticipated.

One is tempted to hasten the death of a school year, but patience is best...savoring each tick/tock of the Education Death Clock, a Dali-esque apparatus with a surrealistically melted minute hand and no numbers. Instead of 10, 11, 12, we have events on our clock. Events every bit as strange as any Dali painting or moustache. These include:
  • The last Standardized Test;
  • The last Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting;
  • The last "Progress Report";
  • The last "Professional Development Day" (i.e., In-Service);
  • The inexplicable school-day trip to Cliff's Amusement Park which we still do although it has absolutely nothing to do with education and is a big pain in the ass;
  • The equally inexplicable "Recognition Ceremony" (i.e., "Graduation") for 8th Graders which has about the same educationally meaningful weight as a infant beauty contest or Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes;
  • And lastly, the ultimate "we don't trust teachers, let's face it" ceremony in which all the teachers must turn in their room keys and anachronistic hard-copy "grade books". Nobody uses hard-copy grade books anymore. It and the "returning of the keys" is one of those annual rituals that everyone knows is stupid, but doesn't bother to question. We just want the Hell out of there, and if it means putting your keys in a tiny, little manila envelop with the implicit promise that we won't, for any reason, actually work in our rooms over the Summer, so be it.
Another step toward the end of the educational Life Cycle is the PDP - "Professional Development Plan". In theory, this is a multi-step process through which teachers outline their personal goals early in the year, and administrators meet with teachers late in the year to assess how well a teacher did in meeting those goals.

Like communism and "clean coal", the theory isn't quite matched by the practice. What the PDP really is, at least in my 15 years of experience, is:
  • A creative writing opportunity for me in early September to write a pithy little paragraph on some vague "goals" I have in a given school year;
  • Another creative writing opportunity for me around the end of April to write another pithy little paragraph in which I try not to brag too much, but just enough about how the year went;
  • A brief chance to get to know my administrators better, via a "PDP meeting" in which the administrator takes about 20 seconds to glance at my two creative writing exercises while I glance at a pithy little vague paragraph s/he wrote about me;
  • After 20 seconds of admiring each other's ability to spend 150 words writing absolutely nothing of substance, we sign a bunch of forms in a bunch of places while making small talk about "What are you doing for the Summer?" and "I plan on being back here next year, I think.";
  • Total "PDP Meeting" time: 1 minute, 45 seconds;
  • If it wasn't' for all the signatures we could certainly get these things down to under a minute.
Yes it's a waste of time, but at least it's only about 105 seconds of time, and it also marks another important organ failure on the road to the death of a school year. I'm not complaining, not even about the simple truth that my administrators have never really known much about what I do in my classroom. In fact, I like it better that way.

Still, whenever I hear talk of "Merit Pay" for teachers, I consider the joke that is the Albuquerque Public Schools PDP. The current PDP process is about as far away from a "Merit Pay" system of accountability as could be possible. Even farther.

Creating the many checks & balances necessary to institute a valid "Merit Pay" system in our public schools would involve a complete revolution in our bureaucratic practices. A revolution that in addition to significant expense, would require a paradigmatic change I don't see happening in my professional lifetime, or the next.

So I expect my remaining 10 years of APS service will be spent writing little pithy paragraphs o' nothing, and taking a couple of minutes each year to ask how my boss is doing while signing a bunch of meaningless stuff. It's a joke, but it's another joke that leads, inexorably, to the death of another school year, and I'll sign here, here, and here over and over and over again to hasten that expiration.

10 days left folks. 9 if you don't count the "Cliff's Day". Etc. etc.

P.S.: Can any teachers beat my current PDP record of 105 seconds? I'm sure there's somebody out there who's discovered a way to shave a few seconds off my personal best. And I envy them.

1 comment:

Abuelita2 said...

Ah, lucky! For decades (in other schools, other states)my teacher eval would be probably 15 to 30 seconds. But this year, with the principal from hell, I've been naive enough to let her grind me for over half an hour. (I was also naive enough to let the beginning of the year principal convince me to put CI as my goal. I failed it. I did not do it meticulously, vigorously, chartfully enough. Actually, after a good try, I decided it was useless, and quit.) Before this year principals always wrote positive things about my teaching, so I was kind of trusting and naive.
Oh for a 105 second PDP!