Teachers value recesses for pep talks and tips

January 11, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Sometimes teachers go to school when children don't.

For children, the six "in-service days" spread out over the school year are mini-vacations. For most parents, in-service days mean they have to make day-care changes or find something for their children to do.

But educators say any inconvenience is worth it -- so long as the teachers spend their in-service days on specific ways to make their lessons more effective.

"The more practical, the better," said Roberta Rooney, drama teacher at North Carroll High School.

North Carroll social studies teacher Susan Tabatsko agreed, saying the "take this back and use it" kinds of seminars are most helpful.

'Inspirational speeches'

On Friday, all school employees from teachers to custodians gathered at Western Maryland College to hear school-improvement expert Larry Lezotte of Michigan. The one-hour lecture was a more general talk, teachers said.

"You have to have the inspirational speeches, too," Ms. Tabatsko said. "The idea is to bring some of both" inspirational and practical.

Ms. Rooney said she would like to see more of the specific and less of the general in-service activities in Carroll County. Most of the useful things she has learned came from statewide conferences for drama teachers because her field is so specialized she said.

But she has always learned something useful at English department meetings and development days in her school, Ms. Rooney said.

Monica Smith, a reading resource teacher at Sykesville Middle School, said teachers in her school set up a system to observe each other in the classroom and learn from each teacher's strong points.

"I love getting ideas from colleagues because they're ideas that worked. They've tried them in the classroom," she said.

For example, she said, she learned best from other teachers how to put students in groups to learn together.

'The art of teaching'

Several teachers interviewed had a difficult time calling up specific examples of classroom methods they took directly from in-service meetings and used on their students.

"That's part of the art of teaching," said Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum and staff development. He said teachers put together the theories and applications "that help them weave a fabric of learning for students."

Students have 180 days of school, but teachers have 189. About half of those extra nine days are for preparatory work, grading and parent conferences, and the other half for "professional development," another phrase for in-service.

Three of the days are before school begins and the other six are spread throughout the year. Friday's in-service session was in addition to those days, as state officials granted a waiver for it to count as a full day of class even though students got out three hours early.

In addition to the learning teachers do on paid "contract" days, the system offers other voluntary programs year-around. All in-service and voluntary programs can serve to polish a teacher's methods or help a teacher work on a problem that a supervisor may have pointed out in an evaluation, said Dorothy Mangle, the county's supervisor of elementary education.

Sometimes a particular school will focus on a topic. For example, Francis Scott Key High School made an all-out effort several years ago to improve students' writing and used most of its development days for that purpose. The result was a dramatic increase in the number of students who passed the state's functional writing test.

Of the Carroll school system's $112 million budget, about $22,400 or 0.2 percent, is spent on staff development, said Dr. Dunkleberger.

"If you put that in contrast with what Fortune 500 companies spend, it's about 6 to 7 percent," Dr. Dunkleberger said.

The money to pay Dr. Lezotte's $3,000-a-day fee came from nontax dollars. The school system used royalties it had earned selling its elementary science curriculum to other school districts around the country, Dr. Dunkleberger said.

Dr. Lezotte spoke Friday to an estimated 2,400 people in the Western Maryland College gym. Parents, business leaders and college faculty joined the 2,300 school employees.

The acoustics made it difficult for some seated in the bleachers to hear Dr. Lezotte clearly, but a handout and charts on an overhead projector helped people follow his presentation.

"Ideally, it would be great if we had people work with [Dr. Lezotte] in smaller groups," said Dr. Dunkleberger. But because of time and cost, that wouldn't be possible, he said.

"He is very much in demand. We are fortunate to be able to get him for two days," he said.

Dr. Lezotte met all day Thursday with a group of about 350 people -- the teachers and parents on each building's school improvement team. He also has spoken to smaller groups in three previous visits to Carroll County since 1990.

Sharing responsibility

A mass audience was the main point of Friday's talk, Dr. Dunkleberger said.

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