A “PD” Worthy of Paul Revere Multitasking

Jun 13, 2017 by

Paul Revere is dead, but papers like the New York Post have mounted his latter-day horse and are riding roughshod through their readerships with an updated warning.

“The British are coming!” has been replaced with “Public school teachers are catching a break!”

Cause for alarm!

Whether it’s a “snow day”, a non-instructional “clerical day”, schools closing due to religious observance, or a restored parking privilege, any slight easing of the pressures of the job are blamed on the political clout of public school teachers who get away with being lazy, selfish, incompetent and greedy because of the “powerful teachers union.”

Among the favorite targets of their editorial wrath are “professional development” days, held a few times a year, when schools are closed for students but staffs attend all-day meetings and presentations about a wide range of topics that rarely are useful.

News flash ( are you listening, Mr. Revere?): Teachers have zero input into the agenda of these events, their scheduling, who will be participating, what roles they will play and where it will be located. It’s out of teachers’ hands.

These “PD”s  vary a great deal in quality. The superior sessions tend to be interactive. More often there is a lecture format in which there is much droning and intractable snoring.

“PD”s can be informative. Some are entertaining. Others are persuasive. Many are none of these. All are beyond the control of the captive audience.

But last week I was more captivated than captive. Had he flesh on his bones and a valid teachers license, Paul Revere would himself have stopped by and been riveted.

The presenters were not conventional preachers of the latest jargon and voguish initiatives. They included a former gang-banger, convicted felon and a Harvard University graduate student who had self-liberated from the ghetto and its mind-set.

They were wondrous motivational speakers whose backgrounds and selection might easily have fanned the flames of controversy. Instead they animated the audience and  kept them invigorated long after they were to have left the stage.

Dozens of hands were raised and every question and comment was charged with admiration.

They did not glorify violence. They did not make excuses for a culture of despair, isolation and suffocation.  They did not soft-peddle any of the compelling issues of criminality, incarceration, victim-hood, societal neglect, or personal responsibility.

It was a bold and plain narrative of their lives of turbulence, renewal and serenity, with its painfully-learned moral lessons for the audience of teachers and their students. And it was told without self-pity or bitterness but with plenty of self-deprecating humor and “words to the wise.” It was dramatic and “laid-back” simultaneously.

Their insights and practical strategies for pulling back at-risk kids from the temptations and grip of negativity was worth a hundred credits of college courses.

Endurance through prison, gang thralldom, claustrophobia in the community and stifling within oneself were achievements far more elusive than are advanced degrees in rocket science.

Each of the three presentations was a gem of autobiographical agony and redemption.

Near the end of most days of “professional development”, the attendees are either rolling their eyes or else are unable to do so because they are sleeping. Nobody raises a hand to ask a question at the end for fear of protracting the event and getting dirty looks from their peers.

It’s said that “where’s there’s life there’s hope.” Harder to embrace is that “where’s there’s professional development there can be time well-spent.”  Last week I believed.

Ron Isaac

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