Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What I Learned from AP Training

Now that I've had some distance from the training, I feel like I can finally digest the week and put what I learned into words. Let me start this by saying the AP (Advanced Placement) is a good program. As a woman whose AP courses helped her skip some university courses, AP done right can go very, very well. The value of an AP training for an educator is less about College Board and more about the individual instructor a teacher has. I cannot stress enough that you should research the purposed instructor for your training. While I now have a certificate that says I have been trained to teach AP courses, I do not feel anymore capable of teaching such a course than I did before the training. The fault of this I believe lies nearly entirely with the instructor that was in charge of my training. Of the thirty people who attended my training, twenty signed up to discuss this instructor with College Board. Despite the issues of that week, there were valuable lessons that I learned. There is some value in learning what not to do.

1. Lecturing is not a sound pedagogical practice.
There are times when students just need to shut up and listen. That time should not be the entirety of a lesson. Our classes last 70 minutes. Lecturing at my students for that length of time would produce exactly zero results. If you need to lecture, it should be less than twenty minutes. As an educator with a bachelors and masters, I found myself checking out around the thirty minute mark and staring longingly at the book I brought to read during breaks (A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, if you're interested). Despite the fact that the majority of her class had checked out between thirty and forty minutes, our instructor continued to doggedly lecture up to the three hour mark. I am well aware of the fact that some professors rely solely on lectures to teach. That doesn't make it right. Your brain is like a giant muscle. It needs breaks every so often.

2. Do not stubbornly continue an activity that is not working.
We were asked to write a group email to a journalist. To do this, we were not allowed to talk except to call out writing suggestions to the instructor. With thirty voices, you can imagine how well this went. Even when we brought up how it wasn't working, the instructor refused to stop the activity and told us we would be late to lunch as a punishment because we needed to finish this email. After leaving late for lunch, we returned to the instructor angry with us because our email wasn't long enough or very in depth. We again brought up that the manner that we wrote the email wasn't conducive to length or depth. She told us that she continued with the activity to show us that it didn't work and to help us figure out what we'd do in our own classroom to make it work. As you can imagine, in a room full of veteran teachers, this did not go over well. While there is value in showing teachers what doesn't work, stubbornly continuing that activity for over half an hour didn't help anyone. There will be times in your classroom when you will realize this awesome activity you planned isn't working. Rather than continuing to waste your time, and the time of your students, it's better to stop the activity and start something else. Even reevaluating the activity and adjusting the directions is better than refusing to acknowledge that this just isn't working. Further, it's pointless to blame the students, as our instructor did. If thirty people aren't getting something, the fault isn't with them. It's with the expectations of the educator and her directions.

3. Insults are not a form of classroom management.
If you cannot control your students, it is ridiculous and cruel to resort to insulting them in any manner. It's rude, disrespectful and flat out evil. While having class discussions, opinions that disagreed with our instructor's point of view were met with ridicule and condescension. This is never okay. Our instructor picked individual teachers to lambaste in pursuit of getting the rest of us to fall in line. She told one teacher that she feared for that teacher's future students and doubted whether they would be able to perform on the AP exam. Because her opinion on a piece of writing was different than the instructor. Not wrong, just different. When three teachers got together to email her questions about things she said she'd cover over the week, and she hadn't yet by Thursday, the instructor projected this email and picked apart the teachers, then said that if teachers aren't smart enough to understand her, then they shouldn't be teaching AP. If she had any supporters after these events, she lost them when she insulted the entire class. AP training costs $500. Some schools are able to get grants to pay for this training. She asked us to raise our hands if any of us paid out of pocket. None of us had. She then remarked that it was obvious because if we'd paid out of our pockets we would have put in actual effort for the training. The hostility was practically dripping from her by the final day. Doing this to a room full of teachers is one thing. I don't know if she resorted to this when in charge of children. I feel bad for any students who passed through her classroom, though.

4. Blackmail is never okay.
I don't know what her point was in telling this story but she told us the following story about a former student. She had a student who was a young gay man. He was not "out" yet, but he wrote extensively about his sexual orientation in her class. She then kept the writings and told him she would return them when he did his work and answered AP prompts correctly. She even remarked that she could have turned the writings into his parents or done anything she wanted with them, but he did is work so she happily returned them to him. She also took this opportunity to tell us that while she didn't agree with his lifestyle choice, she still honored her deal and gave him back his writings. I can only hope she didn't let her disdain for homosexuality show to this student.

5. Make the best of a bad situation.
While I didn't learn much from my instructor or gain anything in terms of resources from her, I did make good connections with other teachers. We were able to share resources with one another and share email addresses so that we can work together to educate our students. There were times when sharing with my classmates had to be done covertly as our instructor skipped most of our breaks and refused to let us talk during class. Our instructor noticed and criticized us for passing notes. What she didn't realize was that the notes contained valuable information about teaching and that we were desperately trying to learn in spite of her.

I will not be sharing this woman's name. I'm sorry. I wish I could because she is signed up to teach AP training in other locations. I'm not one to be sued for libel, though, and I'm pretty sure this is a woman who regularly googles her name. Given that she had a penchant for saying something, being questioned about it and then insisting that she never said that, I'd rather err on the side of caution and not include her name. I will say this: I have never been more disappointed by a professional development. The incredible waste that was that week is infuriating. I lost a week with my child. I wasted $500 of taxpayer money. I came away with nothing that wasn't provided by my fellow classmates. Infuriating actually barely begins to describe my emotions after that week. I can only imagine how a student would feel in that environment, especially one who hasn't been traditionally "good" at school.


  1. I had to take a deep breath before I responded to this. Now, I am not saying anything negative about teachers in particular, but trainers who were terrible teachers in the first place make for HORRIBLE TRAINERS. What did you actually learn from the training? How to group together against a common evil. If you were the students, what would you have learned from the activity? How to go over a bad teacher's head and go straight to the principal about any issues you had with the instruction. Why did your schools continue to pay for this person to instruct? And why do my tax dollars continue to pay for this trainer to instruct my childrens' teachers when the teachers learn nothing? I would rather have this money just go directly to the teacher instead of also wasting his/her time.

  2. I feel bad for anyone this lady has "taught."

  3. i'm with you on all the points, but i have a question about 2. i completely agree, but how would you suggest effecting this? I teach art in elementary school and have at times had to wind up projects before they're done because they're just not working. but i am still at a loss how to do that and NOT send the message "if it isn't working, you can just quit", not to mention "if we complain enough, she'll let us do something else." i have had classes (about 20-25 minutes, in our case) where i knew i was going to have to curtail the project after about 10, but i always continue that particular session as planned (or almost as planned, using a fallback position i've prepared before) and then wrapped it up or done something different in the next session. if it's art history, then i make it a one-session art history module, if i have to. but the problem is, this seems just to encourage non-participation, in the hopes i'll just get it over with.

    and, of course, this is almost always the case when i'm teaching the principles that are covered on the mandatory standardized test at the end of the year--you can bet it doesn't cover the "fun" stuff!

    oh, and the blackmail stuff? has to be grounds for unprofessional behavior, at least.

  4. Art is a bit different than English, but I don't completely abandon an activity if it's not working. Usually I stop and say that we're going to try whatever the assignment is in a different way. I had students working on a review sheet the day before the final just to help jog their memories. I had intended for it to be an individual activity, but I found it was taking them way too long and the majority of them where trying to reread the book to answer just one question. I stopped the class and we started over in groups instead. If I had been the instructor, I would had us stop our "collaborative" writing, work in small groups to outline what we wanted to say and then come back as a large group with a leader from each small group helping to form the actual email. There are very few things that I would completely abandon. In fact, I really can't think of anything I'd flat out quit and not touch. I've stopped an activity and postponed it until a later time because of a large number of absences or an impromptu assembly, but I don't just give up on things. I hope that helps! Again, English and Art probably aren't very comparable, but the general idea of approaching something from a different angle has always worked well for me. :)


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