Small text: yes, I mean it.
As a first year teacher in the district, my school requires that I attend almost 40 hours of professional development on top of the already annoying, weekly-ish meetings demanded of everyone else. Workshops cover such diverse topics as “Responsive Instruction” and “Classroom Management” to prepare new teachers for the practical realities of the job beyond the inert theories covered in university. And great! We all want a well-trained education workforce.
Too bad the workshops are garbage.
To start, the MEd and PhD curriculum design bureaucrats who host each session treat the mere teachers like children: we play online quiz games, share sticky notes on the white board, and do paper crafts (like… with actual cutting and folding). And maybe they treat us like children for good reason! Teachers have a habit of blowing off professional development sessions, so the hosts must proffer desperate schemes to tempt even slight engagement. But then maybe teachers blow it off for good reason, too! The hosts treat us like children and the topics are utterly inane.
Anyway though, what are those topics covered with such childish methods? Why, only such childish materials as “What is a Big Idea” and “What is an Essential Question.” Hmmm. At least we have harmony between method and content.
Let us be polite for a very short moment though. What *is* a big idea, in the context of a workshop titled “The Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum?” The definition given in the slideshow simply states that a big idea is a “conceptual framework allowing the learner to explore the answers to essential questions.” Oh, and me caveman grug just think that big idea be BIG idea. No, in big thunk PhD program, we say “conceptual framework.” Idiots.
Of course, if you cut the wasteful verbiage, you’ll see that the definition doesn’t actually mean anything without first defining that other jargonized term, “essential question.” So, grab ahold of your caveman brain because it’s about to get tautological, straight from the slide show:
“An essential question is – well, essential: important, vital, at the heart of the matter – the essence of the issue.” — some consultant called Grant Wiggins
Ahhh, it’s only in the name, you see. An essential question is essential, the essence of the issue. Dear credentialed morons, why are you wasting my time?
And that’s it. That’s all the content we covered. We spent the rest of the 2 hour workshop “practicing” how to find essential questions and big ideas through the aforementioned quiz games and sticky note activities, along with icebreakers, warm-ups, positive affirmation time, and exit tickets. That complex jargon in the course title, the “guaranteed and viable curriculum,” was never defined. But hey, I can tell you with confidence that “how many legs does a spider have” is not an essential question while “what is justice” is.
Zoom out though so that we can hit the “big idea” on this issue. These workshops don’t just cost me and my fellow new hires an unpaid evening every week when I’d rather have dinner. It costs the district goodles of money to pay the 100k+ salaries of each over-educated curriculum nut and instructional “coach,” which, in opportunity cost, means dozens of actual teachers not hired, school improvements not undertaken, or inflation-beating raises not provided to support staff. Or, hell, if your politics don’t swing that way, you could even take the savings straight to the public and reduce the local tax burden.
But nah, who cares about the efficient allocation of public resources when I could sit here in a Zoom breakout room with three colleagues, just as bored as I am but more polite to say nothing, wondering aloud if “how many sides does a triangle have?” qualifies as an essential question and if we should move that digital sticky note to the left- or right-hand side of the screen.