Sunday, February 6, 2011

Attending a Teacher Conference After Retirement


On Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday, of this past week, I attended CCIRA (Colorado Council of International Reading Association) in Denver.  This was the second time I attended the conference.  Even though I have been an English teacher and an English as A Second Language (ESL) or an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher for a number of years, I had never attended this particular conference until last year.  It seems surprising that I'd never gone to a reading conference until after I had retired.

There is a reason for that:  I am now the co-editor for this association's newsletter, "The Colorado Communicator." I was asked to do this job by a dear friend of mine from college days.  She and I were both Sigma Kappa sorority sisters back in the day at what was then Colorado State College.  We reconnected about six or seven years ago and have been fast friends ever since.  Now, we co-edit a newsletter together.  This means we have some connection time when we work on the newsletter and when we attend the conference once a year.

Attending a reading teacher conference after retirement has caused me to make a few observations.


  1. There seems to be a disconnect between what I see being highlighted and spoken about at reading conferences and what I know is happening in the classroom.  Teachers come to conferences for fresh ideas and new strategies that they can take back to their classrooms.  They come for an infusion of creativity and inspiration.  They come to meet the authors of their favorite childhood literature.  They come to learn about new literature that will turn their students on to reading and writing.  They come because they are professionals who are always learning and looking for ways to improve their teaching.  Unfortunately, in today's teaching environment, teachers are being forced into scripted reading lessons.  They are not allowed to implement these fresh ideas into the classroom; they must stick to the script.  These conferences must be painful reminders of just how much their hands are tied and just how much of a disconnect there is between best practice and what is the reality of what is forced on them as teachers in today's classrooms.
  2. There are not many teachers attending these conferences.  They are not joining the professional organizations like they used to do.  I think there are a number of reasons for this.  There is not enough money in school district budgets for professional development.  This means the teachers aren't sent to these conferences.  Professional development is being done in top down approach in school districts.  This means that teachers must attend the training the school districts select and pay for.  They can't choose to go to conferences.  School districts won't pay for substitutes, nor will they pay for registration fees so that teachers can attend these conferences.  
  3. Conferences are expensive to hold.  State organizations are having to trim budgets which means that it is difficult to attract speakers that the teachers want to hear.
  4. Too many textbook publishers are taking over conferences by offering presentations that only highlight their approach to teaching.  The textbook publishers and their staff presentations are making huge profits, and I think they control the types of materials available for the teachers to see.
  5. I saw almost no freebies.  I remember going to conferences for both English teachers and ESL teachers ten years ago when I came home piled high with sample books that I could use in the classroom, and even a few free novels.  Publishers are not giving away freebies these days as far as I could tell.
  6. Consultants are taking over education.  They are paid big bucks by school districts to come in and train teachers.  They have no true accountability.  They rarely have real answers for education's problems.  They have no real buy-in to the local school district.  They really don't have a 'silver bullet' to offer, but they sure do make a good pitch and a lot of money.  
  7. I am getting too old and too jaded to attend these conferences.  I see the reality of what the teacher faces in the classroom.
  8. I was very inspired by many of the presenters.  I wished I could teach in a place and time when I could go into my classroom, close the door, and teach.  I wished I could try out a lot of what I thought was truly creative and would actually work in the classroom.  Perhaps I will try it out on my grandchildren.
  9. I have great hope for the teachers that attend these conferences and who face great odds in the classroom.  I hope they have the courage to teach what they know works best for kids.
10.  I was again stunned to remember that the only entity that is benefiting from No Child Left Behind is McGraw Hill.  This company, the one who publishes the test materials to see if we're leaving kids behind, has made 1.4 billion dollars from their contract to create these tests.  Think what it would mean if this money was actually being used to teach kids to read.  


19 comments:

Linda Myers said...

I'll bet you could be of real service teaching English in another country, where it's warm and sunny in the winter.

becca said...

amazing that no matter howold we get we are still learning

dian said...

Well said.

Joanne said...

Thank you for your insight. When I worked in the school system I found that the emphahsis was placed on the school giving tests that justified their methods. In turn the kids were consistantly taught "test taking skills" and teacheres were overwhelmed and pressed to pile on the pressure that they felt from their superiors. We as parents tread a very thin tighrope of trying to keep our kids above board and letting them enjoy the journey. great post. Blessings, Joanne

Lynilu said...

I understand your frustration. I have a friend who retired early (2-3 years, I think) because she simply could not teach under the constraints. She taught special ed, and the requirements, particularly in reading, made it impossible. Special needs kids were expected to have the same schedules and outcomes as mainstreamed kids, and that is just not realistic. She finally quit trying and turned in her papers. Sad, because I suspect she was a wonderful teacher. I never saw her in the classroom, but she loved "her kids," loved the job, was excited about it until the last few years.

I worry about the future for teachers. My daughter, daughter-in-law and several nieces and nephews are teachers. I hope they don't lose their enthusiasm. It's hard enough with out the meddling that goes into the classrooms of today.

#1Nana said...

I've had the same thoughts. I am hopeful that changes to NCLB will help stem the tide of over-testing. I'm all for accountability, but there has to be a balance. I hope we move toward a growth model that measures how much a student has learned over the past year in a classroom. I don't want to change the focus on reading and writing because if a kid can't read he/she can't be in control of his/her own learning.

Mollie said...

I enjoyed using bits and pieces of Cris Tovani's methods. The pace at which the curriculum was set did not allow me much leeway to do extra.

Kay said...

What a shame. I guess the frustrations have not changed much since I retired seven years ago.

DJan said...

For someone who has retired, you are still very engaged in the whole teaching world, which is great. I think other countries treat their teachers so much better than we do, and consequently the kids benefit. Good post, thanks for taking the time to share your insights.

Olga said...

Right on the money. I do remember when my school district was very supportive of teachers being active in professional organizations and pursuing continuing education. In the last few years there was certainly much less of that. I did work with some very talented and innovative teachers who learned how to couch their creative endeavors in the lingo of NCLB. Still, it was discouraging to watch administrators and school boards cut funds for workshops and course reimbursements and narrowing the focus of what could be approved. You'd think, being in the education business, there would be a little more value placed on education.

Linda Reeder said...

Oh, yes, and yes and yes! Especially #6! The district guru, who is well paid, therefore knows more and better "stuff", and is the expert, because we paid her lots of money. So we had better make everyone do it her way. Grrr.

KathyA said...

Don't get me started on NCLB! And there is a HUGE disconnect between associations and teachers in the classrooms.

Maggie May said...

Theres a lot of food for thought there, but it did strike me as a pity that teachers can't put any new ideas into a classroom. How frustrating is that!
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Jeanie said...

Very interesting observations. Your industry, of course, if far different frmomine, but on one thing our conferences agree -- not many freebies. We used to have to take a second suitcase. Not any more!

Friko said...

Teaching is a hazardous profession, but only for teachers, the people directly at the coal face. For everyone else, teaching is becoming a business. That applies to the UK too.

If teaching were left to the teachers, our kids would be a lot better off.

Vilisi@islandmusings said...

This was interesting to read. I am not in the USA but the problem of disconnection between decision makers and teachers in the classroom, even here where I am, is very real. Thanks for posting this.

Deb Shucka said...

I agree with everything you've said here. As I get ready to go back into the classroom, I'm already trying to figure out how I can subversively teach the way I know works for kids, and how to not lose my energy on anger over all the idiocy and waste.

Barb said...

A long time ago (in the mid 80's) I was very involved with the International Reading Assoc. My mentor and "boss" was its President. During his tenure, I taught his college classes and held his office hours while he traveled and spoke all over the world. I haven't attended any of the conferences since the 90's, so it was interesting to read your perspective on the conference you recently attended.

KleinsteMotte said...

Congratulations on being active in the reading world and sharing info with us.