Substandard Standards Training

For those of you who think that teachers have two months off in the summer to relax and forget about school and then magically flip the switch when school begins, then think again. An extraordinary amount of thinking and planning goes into every lesson--especially for the first five days of school. These opening days are crucial. It’s where the foundation is laid for the remainder of the school year. Students find out answers to important questions like:

“How much homework will I get?”

“Will this class be easy or hard?”

“Will I enjoy this class?”

“Does the teacher care that I’m here?”

To help me prepare for the upcoming school year, I recently attended a teacher training at LaVergne High School on changes in my English standards. It was a facilitated by two teachers from Rutherford County on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE). This is the first training that I attended as a participant in the five years that the state has conducted these trainings. On three occasions I have been a facilitator in charge of training other teachers, but this was my first time on the other side of the fence. I have conflicting thoughts on this training.

This was advertised as a training about the new state standards that will go into effect this year over which my students will be tested. My participant book was divided into eight modules: the standards review process (i.e. how TDOE developed the new standards), a bird’s eye view of the standards themselves, more overview of the standards, practice breaking down a standard, the role of texts, factors in choosing a text, assessing student understanding, evaluating instructional materials, and planning good units. Only two of these modules contained any new information; the rest of the material has been included in prior trainings and has been out there for a while.

Additionally, the focus of the material diverted to other areas related to the standards, but was not about the standards themselves. It felt, at times, like TDOE was grasping for straws looking for things to add to the training to make it last two days. As an English teacher in a tested subject, I really needed to walk away from that training knowing what, specifically, has changed in my standards. Fortunately, for my own benefit, I had already figured this out prior to attending the training.

If I had been put in charge of creating the content for this training, here is what it would look like (assuming that it has to last two days): review the standards review process, go over a bird’s eye view of the standards, practice breaking down a standard, discuss how to assess student understanding, compare the old standards to the new ones looking for and charting the differences, and planing good units with more of an opportunity for participants to share the resources that they use in their classrooms. I was in a room full of teacher leaders from several different counties across the midstate, and we are all doing amazing things in our respective buildings. My facilitators were great in allowing us to share our ideas and resources when we thought of them, but I can only imagine what great ideas might have been swapped if the training curriculum had forced the issue. Teachers are human and have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, I have always struggled with teaching vocabulary. Someone in that room might be doing something excellent in that area, and being that there are several English standards that deal with this topic, it would have been a worthy discussion!

I commend my two facilitators for doing an excellent job presenting this material. They were energetic, enthusiastic, and kept a positive vibe going during those two days. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to do it any better. For me personally, the content of the training fell short of expectations.