Search form

Meat and Potatoes vs. Souffl (or My Great In-Service Adventure)

Voice of ExperienceEducator Max Fischer recently presented three different in-service sessions in a single day. In this Voice essay, he reflects on the planning and outcomes of those presentations, and encourages others to give doing an in-service a try!

Max W. Fischer

Last winter, as I was closing my classroom after a long evening of parent conferences, I decided to take one last glance at my e-mail. A new message had appeared, which at first appeared to be educational "spam." Before I clicked it into the oblivion, I realized that the address was that of an actual university. It turned out that the e-mail was from a professor who was in charge of organizing a fall in-service day for middle school educators in an adjacent state. He stated that he had been looking for someone to promote social studies instruction at the conference. An Internet search had led him to articles I had written concerning the subject, and he wondered if I would consider presenting several sessions.

I was deeply honored, humbled, and scared out of my wits!

One of the first things that came to mind was the myriad of in-services I had survived over the years. I recall telling the professor that while I wasn't quite sure what constituted a great in-service, I could give him ample examples of poor ones I had attended over the years. Those thoughts led me to my goal for my sessions: teachers would find my sessions valuable and practical.


As I looked back over my history of in-service attendance, I considered what made some sessions less productive than others. First, mandated in-services often began with a condescending air about them. You need to listen to this because [others in authority] believe it important. I know it's true that there are some topics critical to every member of a staff, but, just as teachers do when dealing with students in a classroom setting, there must be an appropriate anticipatory set. Leading teachers to a professional meeting by wielding an administrative club sets a coercive, not productive, tone for that seminar.

More Voices of Experience!

Have you seen these Voice of Experience essays from previous weeks?

Searching for Voices
Care to reflect on a classroom experience that opened your eyes? Click here to learn more.
Another of my pet peeves about in-services is that I can't tolerate in-services that are long on theory and short on practical tactics. Sure, every professionally based seminar needs to be grounded in some theory. However, classroom teachers want meat and potatoes, not souffl. Instructors want to come away from any in-service -- whether they've invested an hour or an entire day -- with practical strategies they can apply in their classrooms in the very near future.

My first concern -- forced attendance -- was addressed favorably when the professor explained that the daylong seminar featured a "smorgasbord" agenda. Teachers would choose from dozens of presenters at three separate sites. I would be presenting three hour-long sessions -- one dealing with using simulations in the social studies classroom; another on reading comprehension strategies within content-area classes; and the final one on applying the theory of multiple intelligences in social studies instruction. The fact that teachers were in charge of selecting one of my three sessions comforted and terrified me simultaneously. The a la carte format would automatically launch the anticipatory set. Teachers would come to me who wanted more expertise in those areas. However, they would be expecting real substance, not fluff. It was my responsibility to give them substance.


From March through September, I spent dozens of hours readying my three sessions. I gathered sample strategies for reading comprehension. I carefully selected video and music clips for my multiple intelligences session. I plotted how to incorporate one of my simulations with one group of teachers, thoroughly detailing the amount of material I would need to bring and how the time would be organized. I compiled appropriate handouts for each session. I created more than 70 overhead transparencies for the three sessions I would teach these teachers as I usually teach my students. I would not just be a talking head, Blah, blah, blah . . . blah, blah . . ., I would employ a multi-modal approach to immerse them in the strategies I was presenting.

The big adventure got under way when I left my school late in the morning for an hour's drive to the regional airport. Ahead of me was a 5-hour junket on two propeller-driven-commuter planes. I didn't even know prop craft were still in use! Seated next to the wing on all four flights of the roundtrip was like riding in a VW beetle with a semi's diesel engine. I arrived and was whisked away to my hotel via the inn's minivan shuttle. I enjoyed the intellectual company of another presenter over dinner as we soaked up a gorgeous autumnal full moon over a sprawling lake. I spent a half-hour before bed perusing my presentations' outlines. I went to sleep somewhat assured that my six months' of preparation had left no stone unturned.


The next morning, when I arrived at the local high school for "the show," I did have some butterflies. They were the kind I remember having before playing a football game in high school (or before every opening day of school since I was five years old). The butterflies subsided, I remembered, as soon as I made my initial hit in the game. Likewise, in each session, once I got rolling, my preparation and experience took over. I knew by their body language as well as by the questions they asked that the teachers in attendance were engaged. As the minivan taxi delivered me back at the airport for the commuter excursion home, I had a sense that all three sessions had gone very well.

A few weeks later, I received feedback from the folks who organized the in-service. Teacher evaluations on my sessions were gratifyingly high. Most notable to me was a comment from one instructor: It's nice to see a real teacher with practical ideas we can use immediately! I had attained my goal for the in-service: teachers found my sessions valuable.

I truly believe that many veteran teachers could put together valuable in-services as well as I did. If you ever are offered the opportunity, you should jump at it, because real teachers with practical ideas make the best teachers of teachers. Theory, like souffl, has its place; but our profession is bound with the meat and potatoes of practicality.

A teacher for nearly three decades, Max Fischer currently teaches seventh graders the marvels of ancient and medieval history. A National Board certified teacher in the area of early adolescence social studies/history, Max has authored nine resource books for teachers in the fields of social studies, health, and math. You can read a previously published article about Fischer: Simulations Engage Students in Active Learning.

Article by Max Fischer
Education World®
Copyright © 2004 Education World