Ellie Searl Stories



She glances at the photo, and the pilot light of memory flickers in her eyes. ~ Frank Deford

I joined the fall session because I wanted to get the district-required “Teaching with Intention” workshop over with as soon as possible. The class would begin again in November with fifteen more teachers, and then again in January, and so on every other month until each teacher had completed the course.
The six-week seminar would spotlight a new and improved instructional system— the latest fad dreamed up by some scholastic guru—to reverse shoddy teacher competence. And when this maharishi of scholarship blitzed the nation with a bigger, better paradigm, our administration didn’t want to be the only district holding chalk without a board.
Had our administrators stepped away from their desks long enough to sneeze, they would have observed an exceptional staff—a team of superior teachers whose expertise enlightened and enhanced the academic, social, and emotional growth of their students.  
Using our teachers as spokes, the superintendent was bent on reinventing the pedagogical wheel.  A mentor’s minion—a data regurgitator certified in Educationalese as a Second Language— was hired to upgrade our collective instructional skill sets. We, the spokes, started from a sound hub of proficiency, only to be stretched on a slant of educational bias to an uninspired circular stronghold while our levels of motivation and morale were put to question.  And after redefining reliable techniques with new terminology and supposed groundbreaking methods, we returned to our solid center without having gone anywhere. 
Charlotte was the paid representative, the spokesperson of the new model.  She stood in front of the class beside the overhead projector with the markers and all the transparencies. Dwight, the superintendent, sat in the front row.  I wondered if he planned to attend all six classes or if he was just there to check up on everybody.  Regardless of his reasons, I thought his presence might put the kibosh on any teacher speaking honestly about anything.
During her welcome speech, Charlotte clutched a blue tissue and peered over skinny hug-the-nose reading glasses. She wore a neat little conservative-yet-stylish outfit—a red boiled wool embroidered Swiss miss jacket with silver buttons over a navy blue four-gored skirt. The lace collar of her white blouse sat under the curls of her bobbed russet hair.  
After a short lecture to acclimate the class to the new concepts, the Anticipatory Set, if you will, she numbered a transparency 1, 2, 3   down the page, leaving space for more writing.
“Attributes.”  She smiled.  “Attributes of a good teacher.  Think about it.” She paused. “Tell me, what are the attributes . . . ,” her eyes made contact with those who sat in an imaginary arc from left to right, and landed on Dwight, “. .  . of a good teacher?” She walked into the center aisle of the classroom and waved a marker.  “Move your desks into break-out groups and discuss this. I will give you . . . say . . . “she looked at the wall clock “. . . three minutes to come up with the attributes of a good teacher, and then we’ll share. O.K. now, talk among yourselves while I go around and listen in.”
The room fell silent. No one initiated a breakout group.  A couple of teachers doodled on the empty pages of their notebooks.  Another teacher folded her arms, sighed, and looked at her watch.
“Here,” Charlotte motioned to a teacher sitting near the door.  “Just swing your desk around and face the other two.”  He did.  “Good.”  She looked up.  “Now the rest of you do that.  Select someone to be the recorder and the reporter . . . they can be the same person. . . and share your ideas.”  I’m sure you all can come up with a couple of attributes of a good teacher.” 
Desks and chairs scraped as teachers formed their groups.
Dwight liked these ‘group discuss’ sessions, these triads, because he could exhibit his leadership skills After all, he was top banana with educational experience, having been a driver ed teacher, principal of some elementary school in Indiana, and a girls soccer coach. 
Dwight matched Charlotte, with his blue wool suit, burgundy tie, and white shirt all starched and creased. And they understood each other. Both were in supervisory positions.  Both followed the educational parade.  Both liked the word schema.  And neither had to integrate the newfangled concepts into a real classroom. 
Dwight told his group that he knew the answers. He took notes of everything Charlotte said so he could say them afterwards. He more than likely knew that there were three attributes of a good teacher even before Charlotte numbered the transparency.
The room buzzed while Charlotte watched the clock and waited.  After five minutes, she said, “It’s time to finish up your final statements and regroup.” 
Had she been listening, she would have learned that Tyler licked Heather’s cheek during recess, that Jessica squeezed all the soap out of the classroom dispenser, that Russell saved eraser droppings in an empty Band-Aid can, and that not only was this workshop a colossal waste of time, but also some teachers were leaving as soon as they signed the attendance sheet.
“So what did you come up with?  What are the attributes of a good teacher?” 
“The attributes of a good teacher include knowing your subject area.” Dwight looked around to see who was nodding in agreement. No one nodded. No one spoke. No one said what he or she was probably thinking, like, “Well, duh.”
He continued while the others foraged their apathy for an attention span.
“A good teacher is always prepared,” Dwight said, looking around again for approval.  Nothing.
Dwight had one more attribute to go. He continued, “A good teacher...”
“. . . is only good to the extent that students are interested.” A teacher shouted from the back. “The material has to be relevant—meaningful.  Every single person in this room is a good teacher – with enough good attributes to stuff North America.”
This time teachers nodded.  There were rumblings of ‘no kidding’ and ‘you got that right’ and ‘damn straight.’
Dwight scowled and looked at his notes, eyes darting around his paper, as though seeking instructions for workshop mutiny curtailment.
This wasn’t the first nor the last required professional development workshop led by a highly paid consultant.  It was as though the district didn’t have faith in the collective talent of its own faculty.  The district spent big bucks for hired help when most teachers could have led any one of the workshops, and not only bring a constructive twist to a stale idea, but also inspire teachers to maintain enthusiasm during the presentation.  Reading, writing, new math, old math, inclusion, exclusion, learning centers, IEPs, SSTs, whole language, half language, street language, curriculum integration, differentiated instruction, make-it-up-as-you-go-along instruction—it wouldn’t matter. 
Charlotte held up her tissue and said, “Wow, tough crowd. I guess I’ll skip the next part.  Let’s take a short break, and when we regroup, we’ll share strategies that work best for you.  That way we can learn from each other.”
Two teachers went home, one teacher went shopping, and the rest continued the first session with glazed eyes.
I went to three of the remaining five classes. The attendance dwindled and I understand that by the last session, only seven of the fifteen teachers showed up.  I don’t remember much of what Charlotte talked about, but I did end up with a bunch of handouts and one lesson-plan design, which we were required to implement into daily instruction if we wanted to pass our performance evaluation.
The following year, the lesson plan wasn’t required anymore.  Another guru had entered the scene and his taxonomy would alter the course of education altogether.  I never had to institute that new system into my already established program because by then I had found a career that rolled along on a full tire and didn’t change direction with the wind.
EVS – 11/11