Our district tried something this year that, on its surface, sounds pretty smart. We added several minutes of instructional time to four school days a week and the students leave 75 minutes early one day a week. That remaining 75 minutes (it was all done within the limits of our contract, no legal issues there) was designated as "collaboration time", a time for teachers to "collaborate." You know, because we need to "collaborate."
What are we supposed to do during this collaboration time? No one is quite sure. And it's been, in the words of an officer I knew at West Point, a goatscrew.
Like I said, it sounds like a good idea. Teachers in other countries have plenty of time during their working days to collaborate amongst themselves. We've clamored for such time, and here it was, given to us. And the first thing we did at my site was start complaining about it.
It's been screwed up at all levels. The district mandated certain "cans" and "cannots" as far as spending this time went. As that made its way down to our school site, more structure was imposed on this time. Two days a month this time is set aside for academic departments to collaborate, and two days a month is allocated to schoolwide stuff.
My department isn't the most--how shall I put it delicately--"collaboration ready" group on the planet. Many of our teachers still subscribe to the "anything I want to do when the door is closed" mentality, and few acknowledge that the state standards, adopted by our district years ago, should have any bearing at all on their teaching. As a result, we have a hard time agreeing what direction to take when, for instance, we're requested to develop common assessments--every Geometry class takes the same test for Chapter 2 or the same final exam, for instance. It gets worse the higher up we go in classes, when some want a "common assessment" to cover material that they themselves teach but that is not part of the standards, "But it should be!"
We also have several teachers in our department who teach in other departments, so they aren't always available to collaborate with us during collaboration time! How are we supposed to collaborate?
I think what's happened here is that the district wanted to give us time but wanted to make sure we weren't wasting it, so they stuck some requirements on us. Same with my school administration. By the time it got to us teachers, it appeared to be a mandate that "you will work together and accomplish something, anything, good." I don't think you can compel people to work collaboratively, and neither can you expect people who aren't ready to collaborate to be pleased when they are in fact compelled to.
And I was just hoping to have some time to meet with others to learn more effective ways to teach the Ambiguous Case of the Law of Sines, for example. Or complex numbers in polar form. Or any other of the topics that my students struggle with each year. I was working on the assumption that perhaps my own instruction could be improved if I had time available to discuss these things with other teachers. But I don't. Because when my department gets together, we spend vast quantities of time complaining about standardized testing and state standards and NCLB and other things over which we have no control, and then try to function as a group because that's what we've been instructed to do. I can't just grab another teacher and compare notes on how best to teach the Normal Form of the Equation of a Line.
This week I get to learn how to use PowerPoint. Again. Should I make a slideshow (yes, of course I already know how) explaining my extreme disappointment in the implementation of this so-called collaboration time?
It's more like collab-bore-ation time.