Sunday, January 27, 2013


That was the best advice I ever learned, the most empowering message I ever received as a teacher,  and it came from one of my teaching colleagues, Bryan Marvis.

In the midst of a day-long misery of classes in a workshop designed to teach us yet another new method of writing performance goals and student objectives (which came along every ten years, torturous state mandates designed to waste time better spent in the actual act of teaching), Bryan burst from a classroom into the hallway where I was chatting with another colleague.

“What are you doing?” I asked, because he was a dedicated and excellent teacher and I was surprised to see him not involved in every second of what the district had planned for us that day.

“I told my superintendent that my time is valuable and if any session I attend is not valuable or well-presented, I’ll be walking out to do something more useful with my time.”

Wow!  Up until that time, while I’d felt the same way, I’d never actually got up and left.  Wouldn’t I be considered impolite?  Wouldn’t I get in trouble should my principal hear about my actions?

Bryan taught me that the action goes both ways.  A teacher owes it to his or her class to be prepared, informative, and structured. Every step of a new learning needs to be presented and measured before the next step is taken. And while every teacher had to take a methods class so we’d know how to teach to a variety of learning styles, the “experts” brought in to instruct us adults rarely used any method other than the “read the overhead transparency while I say it aloud” method. 

Since that day, I have left workshops, sessions and classes if they did not deliver what their advertising said they would. I’ve left if the teacher did not employ several learning-style methods. If the instructor was not structured, telling me where we were going and where we’d end up. If the educator clearly did not know his subject matter or blew off questions asked by students.

I hold the firm belief that if a person is going to teach a class of any subject matter, he or she needs to know how to employ all methods of learning styles and multiple intelligences.  At the very least, he or she needs to tell the students what they will accomplish during the class, what the final outcome will be, and the steps it will take to get there.

At first, I felt I needed to make up a reason for leaving a session, such as simulating an uncontrollable cough or intense need for the restroom.  Often I said, “Excuse me,” as I went.  Later, I felt such untruth was not fair. The person in charge needed to know he or she was lacking in some way, otherwise how would subsequent change occur?  Now, I just go.

And that’s what my husband and I did last Saturday after enduring 2 and ½ hours of a workshop we hoped would improve as it went along. Who was it who said hope is nectar in a sieve?

“Winging it” is not an acceptable teaching method.  Neither is rambling. Neither is rampant self-promotion or story after story about oneself. If the announcement of your class promised learning the specifics you need to know in your chosen career, let’s say, how to set up a blog, how to use Facebook and Linked In to market yourself as a writer and how to tweet, then those are the exact things your attendees are there to learn. Each person should know how to do that at the end of the workshop.

We had arrived at the hour the workshop was to begin only to find it in session and the section we’d signed up for set an hour ahead.  We left to explore a section of town about which we knew nothing except that I’d lived there until the age of three and where my house had been was now an industrial warehouse.  We drove about and got turned around in our discoveries.  We made it back to the appointed spot five minutes late but it didn’t seem to matter.  The part we’d come for had already started at some point earlier. People got up to make tea or have coffee or use the restroom when we came in and a few minutes later we all settled in for the rest of the workshop where we would be taught what we'd come for.

Only teaching never occurred.  We were shown (the only teaching device of the entire workshop) on a computer screen a curve that was supposed to show us that if we weren’t famous, our blogs would never be read by very many people anyway.  That was mighty inspiring.  Then the entire class was not shown how to develop a blog.  But if we really wanted to write one, we were given the name of two blog hosts and it took other class members to mention several more.

After an hour I used the restroom again.  I couldn’t sit there surrounded by emptiness of fact any longer.  I came back and it was as if I had not left.  Nothing was still happening.  Then I checked my e-mail accounts and Facebook, not so surreptitiously.  Nothing was still happening.  The woman at the end of the table sitting between my husband and I was furiously typing through all of this, probably creating two or three chapters on her next novel.  Once she instructed the instructor on some point the instructor misconstrued.

When attendees asked specific questions as outlined in the advertising matter, the instructor either blew them off saying an e-mail with that information would be sent, or telling them they really didn’t need to know that aspect of social media to be successful.

We moved on to the topic of Facebook, and attendees were not shown how to set up a Facebook account or use it for marketing. My husband left to use the restroom.  Because a student asked a specific question about privacy, another student showed her the settings cog so some did learn about that.

Someone asked about Linked In and we were all told it really wouldn’t help us at all since that was for business.  Even though, for some of the people in attendance, writing IS their business.

Another asked about Twitter and was told that tweeting wasn’t important in spreading the word about our books. In other words, according to the instructor, everything every person came to learn how to do in order to market their books, as advertised, was not necessary and was not taught.

I looked at my husband.  He looked at me. We both nodded, gathered our empty notepads, rose from our chairs, and departed. We gave it the old Bryan Marvis play. We agreed the best part of the whole afternoon was the town tour we'd given ourselves and the lovely building in which the workshop was housed.

Bless those other attendees who, like us, paid their $70 to learn not much of anything.  I want to tell them not to give up and to keep their ear out for someone who really CAN teach them what they want and need to know. But if they choose another session where nothing is being taught by someone with negligible teaching skills, I hope they get up, gather up their belongings, and leave.

As for Bryan, he was a great teacher. 

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