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How I Spent My Teachers' Convention

by Scott Carlson
May / June 2001


In Alberta, Teachers' Convention is two days of legislated professional development. A board appointed by the Teachers' Association organizes each convention. Many presenters are teachers, who may receive a small honorarium. As many as 10 000 teachers attend each of several regional conventions in the province.

Join me for a day at Teachers' Convention 

At 8:30 A.M., I peruse the convention book. Of the hundreds of session offerings, about six are even barely relevant to me as a mathematics teacher. The buffet of offerings includes such delicacies as "Food, Moods and Cravings," "Line Dance," "Aromatherapy," and "Developing Your Financial Plan for Retirement," each of which is designed to improve teachers' practice and not just their mathematics. The link to improved student performance is also no doubt clear.

Deciding what I like best about convention is difficult. Perhaps it is all the "sit and get" opportunities. I love it when an expert distills all her or his knowledge into a one-hour presentation, and I am sure that research shows that this model of adult learning is an effective one. I also appreciate the long-term nature of convention and knowing that I will be able to follow it up with another line-dancing session next year. Once per year is truly sufficient to facilitate continuous improvement.

Finding a seat in any session is easy, despite the thousands of teachers who are attending. Few mathematics sessions are ever full. I would hope that more than the 30 mathematics teachers that I have seen are at the convention today. As I leave the convention, I see a long line to get into a session; my mistake, that line is the one for a restaurant. I then see how teachers are spending their time at the convention.

Time for reflection 

With all sarcasm aside, this professional development opportunity has one very positive aspect. I needed neither to plan for a substitute teacher nor to clean up behind one after I returned. However, I would have been more thankful if I had been able to talk with more mathematics teachers at the convention, where a breadth of perspective should have existed. I did see the mathematics teachers from a neighboring school, but we had neither the time nor the opportunity to meet and discuss the results of their action research projects. Such a discussion could have helped clarify thinking and planning for the next year. The convention time would have been an excellent time for my study group to tackle the questions that we always postpone until we have more time.

A place should exist for non–subject area workshops and seminars, but Teachers' Convention may not be the best place. When so many teachers are together for an extended period, we should offer the types of professional development that are most likely to provoke reflection and change practice. From experience and research, this venue is clearly not it. The last thing that we need is two more days to "sit and get." We should focus on collegial discussion, collaboration, problem solving, and ultimately student learning. The aromatherapist might be unhappy, but mathematics teachers would be much better off.


Scott Carlson taught high school mathematics for five years before moving to the Calgary Regional Consortium, a professional development agency, as secondary math professional development coordinator. His spare time is spent reading, gardening, and chasing his three-year-old son.




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