Right now I’m experiencing my first Teacher’s Convention in my current district (last year I attended a different district’s Convention). For those not in the know, Convention is when as many teachers as possible in your area get together and attend a variety of sessions ideally geared towards improving your practice. Basically it’s job training.
You find a wide range of opinions on Convention. Most people grump a little bit at the necessity of spending a lot of time in sessions they’re not sure will help them. Some people find a few great sessions that give you a great set of strategies to immediately help in the classroom. And a few always manage to have no fun at all, totally feeling like there’s no point to their being there.
Strangely, I found myself dreading it this year.
For those people who don’t know me, I’m usually the guy that is gung-ho for the new and cool strategies, excited to listen to someone explaining something I don’t yet fully understand about teaching. But this year I found myself not being that person coming up to today.
Part of my issue with today is my chosen specialization. Believe it or not, there’s not a great preponderance of music teachers out there (I know, I’ll give you all a second to sit down and recover from the shock). As such, conventions like this are not exactly confronted with a mountain of incentives to offer sessions exclusively targeted at music teachers, especially specialized music teachers such as band (myself included).
It’s not that I won’t find anything to do that will help me. I had a very nice session on website design today and got some valuable work done on my school-related blog that I keep trying to develop with my students. There was another session related to brain engagement that was fascinating and did in fact give me a few great ideas for classroom techniques.
But not having anything that directly applies to my discipline leaves me feeling a bit… left out. I know it’s not by intention. The trouble is that if someone like myself inquires as to the possibilities of getting a dedicated band session, the answer is invariably, “Great! Why don’t you come up with something and we’ll give you a spot!” (or some variation thereof, the details waver depending on the area, time, and space available)
While discussing this phenomenon with a colleague, I said that what I wanted was not to pontificate to a room of people (cue the realization of situational irony based on what I’m doing right now), but to have someone much more experienced than I am come and show me something about my profession I don’t already know. My colleague shot back with, “Well, I’d be more interested in hearing ‘What A First-Year Band Teacher Learned in University’ than another session on how to engage special needs students!”
This floored me. Not that turning down a session on special needs, or computers, or anything was a big shock because some people aren’t called to work in those fields. But the idea that I had something that could be so interesting that 5-10 of my colleagues would come in, sit down, and listen/take notes to my inexperienced experiences was a shift for me.
I’ve always been good at what I set my mind to. But a large part of my development as both an artist and a teacher has been to set any ego and sense of myself as ‘the best’ at something in the background, so I get the absolute most benefit out of any situation without my self-worth getting in the way.
I think in large part that’s the best thing about this sort of professional development: taking things you already have and applying them in new ways. None of the techniques I’m going to learn in these sessions are something I can’t figure out on my own using my own skills and lots of time/hard work. But the encouragement of a better-experienced person goes a long way towards making that job easier for me. And I think I have to realize that I can do that for others too.