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.