Professional Development instills joy in teachers and students

What phrase causes so much joy in a student’s lexicon?

It may not be the highly anticipated words, “Snow Day,” but “We have a sub” comes in a close second.

That exuberance expressed by the very people we teach is one of the many reasons why educators should pursue and engage in professional development. And there are other reasons, I promise.

Outside educational conferences are something I research, apply for, and attend on a regular basis. In the past 26 years, I have enjoyed local conferences and out-of-state ones.

In 1992, my first month of teaching at my high school alma mater, the English department and I descended on a Jesuit conference in Portland, OR. Right down the street, there was a Star Trek convention, and, as the weekend progressed, the lines between the two blurred. I was a newbie learning alongside the very people I had always addressed with the prefix, Mr. or Ms. My mission “to explore strange new worlds… and to boldly go where no person had gone before” was accomplished.

A couple of years later, I was asked to represent the school at a Jesuit school gathering about diversity. The conference was in Colorado nestled in a mountaintop Jesuit retreat center. The topic was serious and thought-provoking, and after the first day I experienced the worst headache of my life. I assumed it was because of the intense discussions, but it wasn’t until that night that I realized the altitude was the likely culprit.

Since then, my professional development has even led me to present at these conferences. I was particularly honored to speak at Columbia University in New York about establishing family culture among my newspaper staff. Additional conferences, especially those focused on journalism, have taken me to AZ and CA, with colleagues and students and without. I have tested and received public recognition for earning my Certified Journalism Educator status at these events. My coworkers often tease me because I always seem to find teacher training in sunny spots, but I find that if the location is desirable, then the conference is usually desirable, too.

And, since I am an active researcher of educational trends, I sometimes make amazing discoveries like the one I did five years ago-The Key West Literary Seminar.*

With younger children of my own and multiple classrooms of ninth graders at the time, I knew I couldn’t pursue attendance at this literary lovers’ dream. But I could recommend it to my sons’ English teacher. And he went. And he loved it. And he went again, claiming it was the best educational conference he had been to. He even brought his daughter, a teacher herself and a former student of mine. This high praise from a strong, veteran teacher made me even more determined to attend.

So, exactly a year ago, I tried online to secure a space among the lucky ones. The conference sold out in less than 3 minutes. I won the lottery. I was in. I secured Title II* funding as well.

Three and a half weeks ago, I ventured to the southernmost place in the continental USA to hear the keynote speaker, the venerable Margaret Atwood (yes, of “The Handmaid’s Tale” fame but certainly not limited to that), discuss “Archetypes and Adaptation” in the intimate setting of the San Carlos Institute theatre. My hand ached from the copious notes I wrote when enigmatic Emily Wilson discussed her translation of the Odyssey, the very version my colleagues heard about at the 2017 NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) annual convention and then adopted for our English 2 Honors sophomore curriculum. I swooned when the prolific Joyce Carol Oates spoke about “Time Travel.” I couldn’t believe my luck to hear from artists new to me, including novelist Victor LaValle and poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips. I applauded for Meg Cabot, known commercially for “The Princess Diaries,” when she delved into classics on the panel, “King Arthur, the Wizard of Oz, Frankenstein, and the Undersea City: Graphic Novelists in Conversation.”

What I loved the most from this conference was my opportunity to become a student of literature again. I remembered what drew me to language arts in the first place, and I hope I can enlighten and inspire my students like these consummate writers did for me again in Key West. That is our hope for all professional development experiences, that we learn something amazing so that we can teach that incredible information to our students.

And, dear students of mine, if we are all lucky, you may be able to utter one of your favorite phrases, “We have a sub,” in January 2020 if I can secure a spot and funding again for KWLS. I appreciate your openness to another teacher and your gratitude for time to work independently on course/homework.

Perhaps, given the recent weather forecast, you may even be able to chant, “Snow Day,” in the very near future, too.

*For more information, visit and/or

Margaret Atwood signs a copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale” for a giddy English teacher. Does Atwood seem to be a more mature doppelganger of a Bellarmine teacher? Photo by Jim Hanigan
Joyce Carol Oates and Emily Wilson sign autographs while their fans make small talk. Photo by Jim Hanigan
The author enjoys the lovely landmark of the San Carlos Institute. Photo by Dan Mohrbacher
All work and no play does NOT occur in Key West. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Hanigan