Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Three Hour PD

I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember Gilligan's Island. The premise was a bunch of people were going to take a three hour tour. Instead, they ended up stuck for years on an uncharted island, eating coconuts and inventing every possible kind of machine you could imagine. Except a boat. I sympathize, of course, especially after being up the creek without a paddle last week in a three hour PD.

I understand it cost a fortune. Did teachers get CTLE credit? Of course not. You don't get credit when a bunch of people come to sell you their program. Here's how it started out:

“I'm super-stoked to be here.”

Oh my gosh. She's twelve years old and excited about it. Then she introduces her colleague.

“a very, very awesome guy.”

There's an adjective I'd discourage my ELLs from using.  Especially more than once. But let's look on the bright side, as stated by the presenter:

“It’s gonna be a fun three hours.”

“I know that everyone was really excited to receive a pen today.”

Oh yeah. I'm super-stoked to have a plastic pen with your company's name on it to walk around with. I can tell everyone how awesome your program is. What are we gonna do now?

“Tell everyone one fun fact about yourself that everyone else may not know.”

Oh my gosh I'm sitting right in front. I go first.

“I live to go to three hour meetings.”

I get the feeling no one believes me. Someone else is more optimistic:

“This is my last PD.”

That one gets applause. The next one sparks a dialogue with the presenter.

“I love dessert.”

“What’s your favorite dessert?”


“So that was really awesome.

Not just awesome, but really awesome. A fine distinction from this highly-paid presenter who has come here to teach me about writing. But she has a new message for us.

“After someone shares, this is what we do (clicks fingers).”

This sounds very charter school to me. I am less than enthused. But alas, the loudspeaker beckons. 

“Will Mr. Hatfield please come to the main office?”

The woman who dreamed up this program tells us a story about going to Yale and learning to write. It's ironic, because the entire reason these folks are here is to urge us to teach writing before our students go to college. The important thing is that we now know the woman who invented this program went to Yale. The loudspeaker again:

“Good morning everyone, and please excuse this quick interruption—just want to remind you your ID number is now called your OSIS number. We hope you have an amazing day.”

And now a special motivational message:

“You’re going to experience what hundreds of thousands of people did doing workshops similar to this.”

I can't wait.

“Thank you Alice. (clicks fingers).”

We are then presented with two stories. One is a pretentious piece of crap from some girl whose parents sent her to Paris. The other is a self-effacing and humorous piece from a young man who spent his summers working at a burger stand on the beach.

"We are gonna do story showdown and Brian’s gonna lead us through it."
“Who wouldn’t mind stepping into the role of broadened horizon officer and reading this aloud for us?”

So which do we like better? The amusing story or the piece of crap? Let's reflect and share. The suspense is killing me, but eventually most people in the room prefer the amusing story over the piece of crap. We are left to infer that college admission officers also prefer amusing stories to pieces of crap. Who knew? But there's more:

"All of us have character here. We heard a little bit about it when we were sharing fun facts about themselves.

Colleges look for:

a unique perspective
strong writing
an authentic voice."

It turns out colleges are not looking for the same old crap, weak writing, or a pretentious voice. I'm so glad I came here and learned this. How do we get rid of crap in writing? Since we are all evidently too stupid to recognize it ourselves, they have an indispensable tool that will do it for us:

“Superficialities and stereotypes. These are two things that our software can purge from your writing.”

And there's more to look forward to:

"We’re gonna constantly be with you performing stories (clicking fingers)."

Wow. This must be something special if it got the finger click. The teacher across from me is drawing flowers. They're kind of interesting. Now she's drawing a doggie. I'm very fond of doggies, so she has my full attention. But then this line is spoken:

“So awesome—so when we are listening to stories there are three things that happen in our brains. How many people understand a little bit about what it’s like to eat a goat’s eyeball?”

Evidently I've missed something.  People start sharing. The presenters respond.

“That was awesome, and a true story (clicks fingers).

Fun fact is that our fearless leader Alice is practicing 365 days of writing stories on “the Facebook.”


We are treated to a story about a wedding ring from one of the presenters. It merits a review from one of the others.

“Brian’s magnet was awesome. Second his pivot, And third his glow.”

Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking. My mind is about to click its fingers, but they now have something very special for us to do. But first, an important announcement:

“At this time all incoming freshman should be finished with the math placement exam and should be in the auditorium. Thank you."

Now back to the important business at hand, this time from the Yale-educated, Facebook-using leader herself:

“Take a minute and quiet your thoughts, and definitely quiet your talking.”

And breathe in and breathe out. And I’d like you to imagine that you’re at the beach. What are you wearing? Are you there by yourself? Or with somebody else? Is the sun rising, setting? Watch the waves going in and out and in and out. And when you’re ready scoop up a handful of sand and just hold it in your hand for a minute. And I’d like you to think of each grain of sand as one of your stories. And you’re gonna take one and share it with other people. And there’s thousands of grains of sand. And maybe one has sharp edges and you don’t want to share it with anybody. Every moment is a story that you can kind of share with other people to let them know where you’re going and where you come from.

So just take one grain of sand and get to know it and get comfortable with it.

Imagine it’s a year from now and it’s the first day of school and everything is exactly the way you want it.

Just listen to what I said and do it."

This is absolutely what I needed right now. My own little grain of sand. And now we sit around and they tell us to read stories into our phones. Because when students read stories into their phones they speak with authentic voices. I imagine myself trying this in my class. Please take your phones out, read stories into them, and then write them down.

What could possibly go wrong?

“Believe it or not, this just answered common app essay prompt number one!”

I have absolutely no idea what that means. But these people have uncovered the secret sauce for college essays so it must be of vital importance. No more of that old school nonsense where you read them, correct them, give honest feedback on what to expand and what to delete, because now you can simply give them your money, run it through their patented Crapometer and all the crap will be magically extracted.

The meeting ends. I leave the pen on the table.
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