She had gone to the national conference for her own professional development. She paid for her own flight, her own hotel, and her own registration since her school had cut staff development from the budget. She had to make arrangements for child care. But she was looking forward to the kind of intellectual stimulation and interchange she hadn’t really had since college.
And for the most part, it was worth it. In fact, some of the presentations were exactly what she had hoped – thoughtful, invigorating, and new. Of course, no conference is without its duds – the presentation on innovative teaching methods that was straight lecture, for example. Still, it was all pretty good until she got to the presentation on ethics.
“It was totally disorganized,” she explained afterwards. “There were two presenters and they weren’t coordinated with one another. In fact, they acted like they hardly knew one another. You couldn’t even figure out what the point was. They seemed to be talking to themselves.”
After thirty minutes or so, an originally respectful audience took out magazines and newspapers and began chatting with one another, checking their email, and texting about how they were stuck for the next couple of hours in conference hell. The presenters, oblivious to the audience’s response, dithered on. It’s a situation we’ve all found ourselves in at one point or another. Typically, we ride it out.
But she had already spent a ton of her own money on this conference and she expected better. So she raised her hand and interrupted the presenters. “Excuse me,” she said respectfully, “but could you please tell me what the objectives of this presentation are? I’m a little confused.”
The presenters looked surprised, like they had never thought of objectives. "I mean, " she continued, still respectful, "It's hard to tell what the point of this presentation is."
The audience stopped reading their newspapers and texting. The presenters became defensive. "Well," said one, "we're not here to give you all the answers."
"I don't need all the answers," she said evenly. "I just need the objectives."
The presentation didn't significantly improve, but the presenters were put on public notice: We expect and deserve better. Don't waste our time. Do the work the situation demands. We know when the emperor has no clothes.
Afterwards, she said, people in the audience treated her like a folk hero. “I really admire how brave you are,” one woman said.
Me too. I used to think that only in education do we accept mediocrity as competence (see results of state testing). That’s probably not true, but the ramifications of this acceptance reverberate throughout the system. We need to be braver.