Friday, February 29, 2008

Lessons Learned at Meetings

"...and the principal has asked that we cut down on lateness. As you know, lateness is bad, and we don't like it when kids come late. Therefore, we've decided to make an all-out effort to make them come on time. So basically, what we're aiming for is less lateness, and more on-time arrivals to class. Any questions?"

Now that's your cue to sit down and shut up. After all, you have 170 papers to grade, and next period is hall patrol, and then you have two more classes, and after that, hopefully, you have a life to attend to. But noooooo. The new teacher, who hasn't yet heard this speech forty or fifty times, requires clarification:

"What if the kid is only late once in a while?"

"Well, that's an interesting question, Mr. Wetbehindtheears."

In fact, it's not an interesting question at all, and now all of us have to listen to a fifteen-minute lecture about the infinite varieties and ramifications of lateness, and there are far too few of us to inconspicuously start grading papers. And after the explanation, another question.

"Well, what if I were to devise some sort of reward system? In the class I took last night, we were discussing the possibility of creating class money, and rewarding students with it, and keeping a record on my home computer, and assigning extra credit, and giving test points, and then, perhaps offering other rewards and incentives, so that blah blah blah blah...."

"Why thank you Mr. Wetbehindtheears, and I think this would be an excellent opportunity for intervisitation. Mr. Educator, would you like to visit Mr. Wetbehindtheears' class and report back to us?"

"Excuse me," I say, only partly feigning nausea, and running from the room. "I'm not feeling all that well."

Kids are rarely late to my class. They know there will be consequences. That's it. I don't need any time-consuming or elaborate system.

And what teachers need to know is this--don't ask questions at department meetings. It just makes them longer, and we all have better things to do. Perhaps there are worthwhile meetings out there somewhere, but 99% of the meetings I've been to have been time-wasters.

If you have a problem, find teachers who've solved it, and ask how they did it. If the administrators running your meeting are still pondering the fine points of lateness after thirty years in the system, it's unlikely they have any worthwhile answers to offer, and just as unlikely they'll listen to or remember any valid responses.

For better or worse, it's the job of administrators to waste time holding pointless meetings. Teachers have more important things to do.
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