Professional derangement

Professional development is snake oil, writes Mary Morrison, a Los Angeles teacher, in American Renaissance. Useless in-school training cuts students’ instruction time, but the out-of-school training is even worse, she writes.

They always start with an hour or two of silly “getting-to-know-you” games. One began with a tug-of-war, and then proceeded to a “blind walk,” where one teacher led a blindfolded teacher around, supposedly to build trust. Next, we were matched with someone according to our favorite day of the week and according to the results of a personality test we had taken. We were supposed to cozy up to a “camp fire”—blankets thrown over half a dozen flashlights—and confide our innermost thoughts and feelings to each another. Often a school administrator lurks nearby, noting if anyone lacks enthusiasm for this silliness.

Workshops, training sessions, and professional development are mainly about how to teach the majority of LAUSD students, who are “of color:” non-English speakers who enter school two grade levels below whites and Asians of the same age. Asians are not white but are not exactly “of color” either, since they do well in school.

In these sessions we invariably learn that in order to teach students effectively we must foster “trust.” To do so we must have “compassion, sensitivity and understanding,” and acknowledge our students’ “cultural authenticity.” This is because they will not learn from teachers they see as “hostile to their reality.” Most of the people who run these sessions have never taught a class in their lives but believe me, the LAUSD is deadly serious about this stuff.

Teachers can’t discuss intelligence or racial differences in “behavior, focus or drive,” Morrison writes. If black or Hispanic students score below average, it must be due to “racism, oppression, cultural differences and textbooks.”  White or Asian students who don’t learn must be victims of “poor teaching methods, run-down school buildings, or lazy and uncaring teachers.” Above all, “students are never to blame if they misbehave, fail to study, or can’t understand the curriculum.”

The fads come and go and then come again with a new name.

Professional developments I have been subjected to include: Left-brain/Right-Brain Strategies, Self-Esteem, Relevance, Alternative or Authentic Assessments, Values Clarification, Critical Thinking Skills, Inventive Spelling and Writing, SLCS (small schools within schools), Rubrics, Metacognition, Tapping into Prior Knowledge, Differentiated Instruction, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, Learning Centers, and Multi-Sensory Education. And there are many more.

A huge PD bureaucracy makes lots of money selling snake oil, Morrison writes.

About Joanne


  1. Amy in Texas says:

    I have also seen schools give the same PD presentation multiple times, have us tied together at the ankle and walk in a line, have a ‘scavenger hunt’ that requires teachers to go to other district schools and get autographs of other administrators (one such administrator asked, don’t you have better things to do over at your school?)
    among other time-wasters. Finally they signed us all up for accounts with a web- based PD delivery system. Huge, ridiculous waste.

  2. All true, and it’s even worse than she writes. As teachers accumulate these idiotic “trainings,” they get salary bumps which last throughout their entire career. The “bumps” then morph into bigger pensions for teachers. And of course it’s the taxpayer who gets to pay for all this nonsense.

  3. Doug Dahms says:

    Overall, I agree with the Mary Morrison, but I must disagree with her lumping metacognitive skills, differentiation, and multisensory teaching with faddish teaching. A great deal of research supports their use.

  4. As teachers accumulate these idiotic “trainings,” they get salary bumps which last throughout their entire career.

    No, they don’t. I believe she’s talking about in-staff professional development, for which we get no bumps. Give your hobby horse a rest. We get pay for school credit.

    What’s really annoying is the degree to which thediversity PDtrain treats teachers who work in heavily diverse areas as if they just got off the bus from all white West Virginia.

    • “Useless in-school training cuts students’ instruction time, but the out-of-school training is even worse…” Cal, I taught for almost 30 yrs., mostly in CA and we got salary points for all kinds of idiotic “out-of-school training” PD. So, please save your snotty “hobby horse” comments for someone else.

      • In-house staff development, you got paid points for? I’d want to see evidence of that. And yes, it is a hobby horse. While I don’t think teachers should be paid for going to school, it’s highly irrelevant to this particular issue of diversity crap.

    • First West Virginia is all not all white!

      Second, cultural competance is vital. Unfortunately the training criticized here is very light on substance. Real and effective diversity training would include information the history, the holidays, the literature of the population you are teaching. All of which would have specific concrete ties to curriculum already being taught.

      • How about something simple like helping teachers understand that all families don’t have the money to send in individually wrapped snacks for a whole class once a month? Or looking at why even the reduced school fees are 20 dollars for Kindergarten? Or my personal favorite: if you don’t have access to a computer for electronic communication, please send the teacher an email.

        My nephew attends a suburban school district and they just don’t get it. Yes, the majority of students come from middle class and wealthy families. However, there are also students that are living in poverty. It isn’t always the big things, it is often a lot of little things that alienate parents and make them feel that they don’t belong in a particular school.

  5. You say, “Teachers can’t discuss intelligence or racial differences in ‘behavior, focus or drive,’ Morrison writes. If black or Hispanic students score below average, it must be due to “racism, oppression, cultural differences and textbooks.’ White or Asian students who don’t learn must be victims of ‘poor teaching methods, run-down school buildings, or lazy and uncaring teachers.’ Above all, ‘students are never to blame if they misbehave, fail to study, or can’t understand the curriculum’.”

    That is the message that the school reform movement, the backers of privatization and “no excuses” charter schools, have been pushing for years. The fact that some school administrators require that public school teachers “drink the Kool-Aid” in the name of continuing education is not surprising. But perhaps you should apply the same sort of skepticism to the “no excuses” reform movement that you apply to “no excuses” teacher training, and insist on the recognition in both settings that out-of-school factors can have a significant impact on classroom and school performance.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      You are absolutely right. Both left and right expect way too much from schools and teachers.

    • The fact that some school administrators require that public school teachers “drink the Kool-Aid” in the name of continuing education is not surprising.

      Um. It has never, at any time, been okay for public school teachers to blame race for any issue. Perhaps they do it on planet zorkon, where you dropped in from?

      It has been okay to use poverty as a mitigating factor. Charter schools used a clever rhetorical trick to turn mitigation into blame.

      • The fact that you’re quoting something I wrote, then complaining about something Joanne wrote that I quoted, suggests that you didn’t read carefully.

        Also, even in relation to Joanne’s quote/paraphrase of Morrison, you are distorting what she wrote.

  6. D's Squirrel Food says:

    I appreciate that Joanne links to articles from a variety of perspectives. However, uncritically reprinting an article from a White Supremacist site doesn’t serve her readership well.

  7. Matthew K. Tabor says:

    If this article appeared on Page 381 of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, would it make a difference?

    • Let’s say Stormfront had a helpful link to real-time local traffic conditions during commuting hours. While that isolated bit of info may be useful, I still think moral people would refrain from linking to their site. So yes, it does make a difference where info appears (even if that one isolated bit of info appears legit/useful/interesting) because it is an implicit endorsement that the site is a source for good information.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    From time to time, somebody says That Which Must Not Be Said. And, although it may be true, It Must Not Be Said. Thus, the sayer is a vile moral criminal.
    Yeah, snakeoil salesmen sell this stuff. But somebody has to buy it, to cut the check. Those are the folks who need watching.

  9. Matthew K. Tabor says:

    I just realized I wrote “Fanny Farmer” instead of “Fannie Farmer.” Don’t let my mama know I dropped the ball on that one.

    And Richard Aubrey is right on — one of the best ways to identify irresponsible boards and administrators is to mark a tripe-peddler (or organization of them) and then see who throws them money.

  10. It appears that American Renaissance is a racist website, but her experiences ring true. SO MUCH USELESS training…so much political correctness…

  11. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    As an LA teacher myself, I totally agree with Ms. Morrison…most PDs STINK, big-time. The only worthy PDs, in my experience, have been those courses, workshops and conferences I have sought out, based on my own classroom needs and subject interests. The school district PD is usually held on a “banked time” day, once a week, when students are dismissed an hour early–one hour less instructional classroom time. This does not benefit students or the bored teachers who must sit through 1) icebreaker-touchy-feely crap 2)meaningless, politically correct drivel or 3) endless hours of “data analysis” and regurgitating stale ideas to address the so-called “achievement gap” (which is really a values/culture gap). Evidently, parents en masse are okay with the one hour less instructional time one day each week. These banked time phony PDs benefit the administrators and petty bureaucrats who design them, with their endless xeroxed packets (how much does that cost, every week?) which end up in the round file…the bureaucratization of public school is truly pathetic. Good teachers want good ideas that are practical, cost-effective and motivational for students–which is the opposite of what we get in our school district. The more school districts reward people for LEAVING the classroom, the more out-of-touch they get, and the result are the nonsensical PDs the teachers who choose to stay in the classroom and TEACH STUDENTS must endure.

  12. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    While decent people should abhor any kind of racial supremicist attitudes and questionable websites, even a broken clock is correct twice a day….it is pure hypocrisy for the politically correct Left to whine about the achievement gap between “people of color” or “minorities”, and ignore students from Asian countries…last time I checked, Asian-Americans are a statistical minority in the U.S and in most school districts, come from home languages far more removed from English than Spanish, yet OUTPERFORM all other subgroups, including “White”. The inane, politically correct trend to stop suspending blacks and Latinos because they are suspended at a higher rate than Whites, ignores the fact that White students are suspended at twice the rate of Asians. Clearly, cultural values and attitudes towards education play a key role. In addition, all Asian groups–except Hmong–are more likely to come from intact, two-parent married families, and are far less likely to obtain government welfare. The PC police at these idiotic PDs aren’t really interested in discussing truth or holding up universal standards of behavior and arduous study and practice that learning demands–no matter what your race, gender, class or ethnic group. No wonder being a teacher now–with the PC Left and the scapegoating Right– is an uphill battle.

    • You don’t appear to understand what the word “hypocrisy” means, or perhaps it is that you don’t understand what is actually being argued. Or perhaps you’re simply hollow manning – imagining a “politically correct Left” that is hypocritical, without regard to whether any actual human beings adopt the position / contradiction you’re attempting to project onto them, because it’s easier to ridicule an imaginary opponent than it is to respond to the actual position taken by an actual person.

      • nailsagainsttheboard says:

        LOL at your utter lack of cogency….I’m quite aware of the meaning of hyprocrisy, and your weak response just made my point–I noticed you didn’t even address the clear double standard of how some minority groups are discussed and others ignored. I doubt if you’re a teacher, or you would actually respond to my arguments, which are based on reality, not “imaginary opponents”. The political Left, which has ruled over academia, from K through the university, since the 60s, has transformed a great American institution–public education–into a sinkhole of racial and ethnic identity politics and excuse-making for the so-called achievement gap. Instead of looking to the great success stories of many Asian-Americans, who come from backgrounds just as impovershed as any other minority or immigrant group,the educrats continue to blame outside forces, ie. racism, for what is essentially a values difference between different groups. Try a little more reason, a little less emotion the next time you attempt to respond…but I guess when you have no facts or arguments to pound on, you pound on the table. ‘Nuff said.

  13. I taught school a number of years ago. The most popular inservice in the San Francisco Bay Area was sensory-motor perception training – supposedly science based. Maybe so, but the providers made a sharp left with the information and posited that physical training (such as jumping jacks) would transfer directly to reading skills. The most useful training was offered by UC Berkeley: Bay Area Writing Project and math and science from Lawrence Hall of Science, both of which I undertook on my own. One of the problems with inservice was that you might learn something, but there was no follow-up to see if we were implementing what we learned, and if it worked for our kids. One of the most popular and often destructive ideas was to seat children in groups of 4 facing each other for cooperative learning. If you were an outstanding teacher with advantaged students, you could make it work, I guess. But was was a sure recipe for chaos with new or not so talented teachers or those with a high ratio of difficult students. But in some schools teachers had to do it. I think the idea came out of Japanese classrooms where discipline was easier than in our individually oriented culture.