Always go to seminars in San Francisco. (The S Rule.)

A piece of the pie

 The businesses that surround public education multiply at an astonishing rate when education budgets grow. If you thought junk mail was diminishing because of email, you better get a bigger mailbox at school.

I read stories to my class. I start the year by reading The Little Red Hen to my class. Though it is a Golden Book intended for much younger children, it carries a timeless truth — Do the work, reap the reward. Middle school students react differently when I introduce the book. I hear many groan and say, “I’ve read it already.” Some smile and turn to their friends. “It’s my favorite.” Some just look at me like a dumb farm animal and moo. But as soon as I begin to read, all eyes are on me.

The antagonists in the story are a group of three farm animals—the dog, the horse, and the pig. They follow and watch the little red hen as she does all the work to bake a loaf of bread. They never offer to help, never help when asked (until it’s time to eat the bread), and are generally pretty worthless as farm animals. While the little red hen does the work that needs to be done, the other animals are along for the ride.

In public education, the schools are the little red hen, and the farm animals are everyone else.

Money, money, money, money!

 Around $70 billion is spent on K-12 education annually in California. I can’t remember the last time I saw that much money because I never have seen that much money, and certainly not at my school. When that much money is on the table, you can bet that public education’s long, lost relatives are going to show up. Long, lost relatives can smell money. And they show up every day at school!

Around the state-run business of public education, there swirls a tornado of individuals, businesses, schools, publishers, and various and sundry opportunists who attempt to rake off some of the state’s money designated for public education. They try to get a slice of the daily bread that is baked by public schools.

One month, I had nothing better to do after school than prepare lessons, grade papers, and collect all the junk mail that ended up in my teacher mailbox. 143 pieces of mail got stacked on a table in my class. The stack was almost as tall as a first grader. I collected brochures from individuals who tried to get me to sign up for this or that product they had developed. Companies peddled their latest solution to the education woes of California. Publishers offered the latest, sure-fire book promising to inspire kids to read. But what outnumbered everything were advertisements for seminars.

Seminars are the bread and butter of “retired” teachers![i] If a seminar is offered, somewhere close lurks an ex-teacher. You know the adage: If you can’t do, teach. Well, when you tire of teaching, set up an LLC, design some cool junk mail, and offer a seminar. If you cannot retire, teach a seminar.

A seminar smorgasbord

You can find a seminar on just about any topic related to education: a reading seminar, a writing seminar, a spelling seminar, a grammar seminar, a punctuation seminar. I’ve even seen a seminar on the use of the comma. (I attended, and, my use, of the comma, is impeccable, now.)

Now, before you think that I don’t like attending seminars, consider this: A seminar is kind of like a paid vacation for a teacher. Apart from writing lesson plans and procuring a sub for three days, there’s very little work involved in attending a seminar other than taking notes, and in the perfect scenario, your school district pays for it. If you ever personally have to pay for it, make sure it’s worth it.

Some seminars are not worth the vacation. These are held at the local airport hotel in a stuffy conference room that still smells like the party that rocked there over the weekend. The walls are beigey with carpet on them. The lighting is flickering fluorescent. The air does not move, and the PA system seldom works.

The Seminar “S” Rule

Being a veteran teacher and attendee of numerous seminars, I have found that the best seminars are held in cities that start with “S”. If the seminar is held in a city that starts with “S”, you’re probably going to learn a thing or two. Find a seminar in places like San Antonio with its Riverwalk and the Alamo, or in St. Louis with its views of the Missouri, the blues, and the ribs, or in Seattle with its seafood and boutique coffee roasters on Puget Sound. But the mecca (Please excuse the religious reference in an article on public education) of all seminar venues is San Francisco. The city is accessible via BART, the subway system, and the various attractions are accessible via cable cars and city transit. The Golden Gate Bridge is a must on anyone’s tourism list. Chinatown alone demands a visit. The weather is always great in the winter. The seminar will always be worth it because of its locale, its seafood, and the loaves of sourdough bread. Once, I got in the background of a The Streets of San Francisco episode in San Francisco. If there’s a seminar in San Francisco, by all means, go.

Oh yeah! You may learn something, too.

[i] They are retired only in the sense that they have retired from teaching kids under the age of eighteen.

©2018 Douglas Hanks. All rights reserved.

Rice-a-Roni photo by Amogh Manjunath.

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