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Driven To Distraction

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Once again, I'm up for relicensure as a teacher in the state of Vermont. I must fill out a form and send it to the state department of education, along with a statement that I don't owe any child support, evidence of courses I've taken, and a check for $175.

But now, there's a new requirement; before I send all this paperwork to the state, I must submit another form to my local relicensure board: the Independent Professional Development Plan, or IPDIP. The purpose of the IPDIP is to ensure that teachers plan their continuing education according to some coherent scheme. I suppose it's to guard against language teachers taking courses designed for physics teachers, or vice versa, just because those courses are cheap or close to home or offered at convenient times. Anyway, after I fill out the basic information at the top of my IPDIP--name, address, teaching position, subject areas for which I'm applying for relicensure--I come to the four essay questions.

The first question says, "List other areas of responsibility that are related to your professional role." Let's see, there's keeping up with the piles of memos in my mailbox, writing progress reports to parents, keeping track of who's in class, who's not, and why not. But all those are actually part of my professional role. What about breaking up fights, or helping kids choose a college, or the endless committee meetings to devise new, workable schedules and policies for my school? Do those count? Or talking with students about why the school board allowed the police to bring a dog into school the other day to sniff lockers for drugs? Where does that fit in?

Here's what I actually write: "I share with another teacher responsibility for a weekly column in the local newspaper about my school. I teach courses in writing and the teaching of writing, and I have co-taught seminars for pre-service teachers. I am a mentor for pre-service teachers."

The second question tells me to state any plans I have for moving into other educational roles during or after this relicensing period. The question puzzles me. Is it asking if I secretly aspire to work my way into an administrator's job? I want to write, "Hey, don't worry. I don't have time to keep track of attendance much less take the courses I would need to become an administrator. Besides, I'm happy right where I am. I've been teaching for over 20 years, and every day is new and different and interesting."

The last time I was relicensed, no one had brought a gun into my school, so we didn't have to think about making the building secure during the school day. Who knows what will happen in the next seven years? I hedge my bets and write, "I have no immediate or concrete plans, but I expect teachers' roles to continue to expand during the next seven years."

The third question asks me to explain my professional-development goals for the next relicensing period. A close friend of mine, also a teacher, says her short-term goal is survival and her long-term goal is stringing together a lot of short-term goals. That sounds cynical, but it really isn't. In the face of all the conflicting demands on our time and energy, we seek whatever will help us focus on teaching our students before they rush off in different directions to their next class. In short, we want to learn more about teaching and learning and learn to teach better. But that doesn't sound highfalutin enough for an Independent Professional Development Plan. Would a doctor write, "I want to learn more about medicine and the practice of medicine and learn to be a better doctor"? But throwing caution to the wind, I write: "I plan to learn more about teaching and learning; to develop my teaching skills and adapt them to changing conditions and populations; and to work with colleagues in the building and in the wider teaching community."

The last question says, "Indicate the way in which your goals connect with the five standards for Vermont educators." Uh-oh, I'm stumped. I can't remember what the five standards for Vermont educators are. I know that Advocacy is one of them--sticking up for kids, doing things outside the classroom that help children and their cause. And Colleagueship is another--working with other teachers. But I draw a blank on the other three, so I start asking the other teachers in my school. It turns out that I'm not alone; when I ask my colleagues to name the five standards for Vermont educators, their reactions vary.

Teachers who have not been relicensed for a while say, "Huh?" Those with more recent experience with the relicensure process name two or three standards before they say apologetically, "I have the names of the others in a folder at home. . . ."

I continue asking. A student overhears my question and offers to name the five keys to safe driving, which she memorized for her driver's license test. They are: Aim High, Get the Overall Picture, Keep Your Eyes Moving, Make Sure They See You, and Always Have a Way Out. Perfect guidelines for certain situations at school, but I don't think the department of education would approve.

Finally, I find an administrator who can name all five standards. In addition to Colleagueship and Advocacy, they are Learning, Professional Knowledge, and Accountability--communicating with administrators, parents, and the community.

Now that I know the five standards, how will my goals help me reach them? I look over my goals and realize that they're practically identical to the five standards. I write, "My goals are very similar to those expressed in the five standards."

At the bottom of the form, it says, "Attach additional pages as necessary. Attach and date any amendments to the plan." Extra pages won't be necessary this time. With any luck, this plan will last me until 2001, when I start the process all over again.

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