About a month ago my administrator requested that I sign up for the College Board’s Southern Regional Conference on a teacher planning day. I was a little hesitant since grades were due that day, but I have had some good professional development in the past from the College Board and it was going to be held at a swanky Miami Beach hotel, the Fountainbleau. For those unfamiliar with Miami Beach hotels, the Fountainbleau is a historic art deco hotel frequented by Frank Sinatra, mobsters and Presidents in the past. In its newest incarnation, the Fountainbleau is the favorite hangout for the Kardashians and the cast of the Jersey Shore. It was recently featured on “The Real Housewives of Miami” where the women were attending a food tasting where one housewife complained “I don’t eat Ahi tuna. It has too much mercury and gives you Alzheimers.” The threat of Alzheimers aside, the thought of a free seared Ahi tuna lunch was enough to get me to register for the event. You would be surprised at the lengths teachers would go to for a free meal. You are talking about people who eat chicken nuggets and tater tots (now reduced fat thanks to Michelle Obama) almost every day of their working lives. I once attended a sales pitch from a financial advisor half way across town for a free chicken dinner. And it worked! I signed up for some horrible annuity that promised 3% yearly gains with no risk but 8 years later I have the exact same amount of money in that savings account.
So I registered for the College Board’s Southern Regional Conference with visions of Ahi tuna and breaks lounging around the pool running through my head. My hopes of spending part of the day lounging by the pool were ruined when Hurricane Sandy hit town. We don’t get snow days in Miami, but every few years we get a day off for a hurricane. I felt assured that the tropical storm winds and rain would guarantee us a day off. Two neighboring counties were closed but since the date was already a teacher planning day, we were still expected to show up for work. Apparently the school district is not concerned about teachers being blown away or pelted in the head by flying coconuts.
So there I was in the dark, pounding rain with 50 mph wind gusts at 7 am on a teacher planning day waiting for a school bus to take me to the Fountainbleau. Most people pull into the Fountainbleau in stretch limousines, but we pulled up in a big yellow bus because that’s how teachers roll. Our bus pulled up right next to a Bugatti (a $2 million Italian sports car). I exited as quickly as possible from the big yellow bus and tried to find my way to the breakfast buffet. Only there was no breakfast buffet. There was coffee and-get this-curried popcorn! Not only is popcorn the cheapest food on the planet (even if you sprinkle curry on it), who the hell wakes up in the morning and wants to eat curried popcorn for breakfast??? As I waited for the opening session to begin, I watched in shame as my colleagues hoarded stacks and stacks of free post-it notes and pens. Has any other profession been reduced to this? Do doctors or Wall Street bankers shove stacks of post-it notes in their briefcases at conventions?
After 90 minutes of “networking” with powerful teacher types who shove post it notes in their free College Board burlap tote bags, the opening session finally began. There were only three rows worth of teachers in an entire convention hall because of the inclement weather. The vice President of the College Board shared an abundance of convincing data that showed that despite increasing enrollment, pass rates are on the rise. We were congratulated for winning the prestigious Broad prize. The scholarship money for students is nice, but from my not so scientific observations there does seem to be a strong correlation between districts winning the Broad prize and districts treating their teachers like dog poop.
To my surprise, the College Board vice president opened the floor to questions from teachers. An open floor? You wanna give teachers access to a microphone? I ran up to that microphone like I was the next contestant on the Price is Right! Apparently I didn’t need to run up so quickly because no other teachers were lined up behind me to ask a question. I could feel my administrator cringe as I picked up the microphone. “What is the College Board’s stance on class size? The Florida Legislature exempted advanced placement courses from the voter approved class size amendment of 25 students and now some classes have over 40 students in them. David Simmons, the Republican legislator from Altamonte Springs stated on NPR last week that AP classes should have more than 25 students because college classes have more than 25 students. ” I was given a round of applause for my question. The vice President said he would have to see if there was research to justify small class sizes before the College Board would endorse any class size restrictions. Apparently the College Board is very data driven.
The Q & A session ended with only one more question. What is with the mute teacher syndrome? I am so sick of being the only person to speak up at meetings. Say something people! Maybe you’re too scared, maybe you don’t know what’s going on, maybe you don’t care because you’re retiring in two years, maybe you’re too busy texting other teachers about the annoying woman who won’t shut up at faculty meetings. I don’t know what is with teachers lately. Your profession is under attack, public schools have to fight for their existence and ya’ll have nothing to say? If we continue to act like a profession of cowering eunuchs, it’s over.
The next events were subject related sessions. I attended one about planning an interdisciplinary unit about Gettysburg. Unfortunately it was not the most useful unit for high school teachers in Florida since the new American History EOC starts after the Civil War. Nonetheless, I like the idea of interdisciplinary units. The next 90 minutes seemed more about the Common Core than anything related to AP. Since I don’t know much about the Common Core I was happy to listen. I actually like the Common Core approach to history but I fear the average student is going to struggle to catch up to the new focus on primary sources and writing and my job is going to be on the line in the meantime. I don’t anticipate being flooded with wonderful resources, trainings or time to plan interdisciplinary units. Yet I am sure to be held accountable for my students’ performance on the new PARCC assessments that no one has seen. Peddlers of the value added model try to sell teachers on the validity of the algorithm by claiming they use 3 years of test data. How is the algorithm going to predict scores for students on a test they have never taken?
At 11 am it was on to lunch. Finally, the moment of truth had arrived. What wonderful gourmet lunch would I be treated to? Seared tuna? Shrimp ceviche? Steak au poivre? It would turn out to be an excruciating two hour wait. We went to the convention hall and we’re seated at tables with forks, knives and plates. That’s a good sign it won’t be a sandwich! Before we could dig into our main course we had to sit through ten motivational speeches. One motivational speech after the next. The normal buzz words pervaded the speeches “Rigor, rigorous, international competition, 21st Century skills….” The student speeches were nice, inspirational and short. Then came the main speaker. The President of Princeton. Like a true academic, it was not a speech but a 45 minute dissertation. This woman and the convention planners apparently do not understand that teachers are used to eating lunch at 10:30 in the morning. After a breakfast of curried popcorn I was ready to rip someone’s head off at 12:30 when lunch had still not been served. Finally the speech ended and waiters came to our table with what a thought was a tasty appetizer of buffalo mozzarella, hand picked basil and sun dried tomatoes. It turned out to be a dessert platter. What? I haven’t had any lunch and you’re putting mini fruit tarts on my table? Where’s the beef? Of course it wasn’t beef. It was a dry chicken breast on a bed of Romaine lettuce. I gave up my teacher planning day for this! Oh, well, at least the mini fruit tart was tasty. After lunch, in true teacher style we pretended to be headed off to another session about data, rigor and the Common Core. Instead we made our way to the lobby to hail a cab back to our school because that’s how teachers roll.