Workshop, Seminar and Presentation Rant #1 (of several) - Double standards of behaviour

It’s been building for a while now, bubbling beneath the surface… It began as a slight feeling of uneasiness before growing into continuing annoyance and eventually manifesting as a good old fashioned slightly tongue-in-cheek (but only slightly!) blog rant.

The rant begins - Image by @dfogarty via eltpics

As a teacher, I have attended many workshops, seminars, presentations and other forms of ‘talk’  and, while I view them as an important part of my continuing professional development, I can’t help but feel some of them are a wasted opportunity. Sometimes this is due to some fault of the organisers and sometimes it is due to the speaker/workshop leader her/himself - but I will get onto them in future posts/rants. The first targets in my sights are the attendees… Yes, those ordinary teachers like you and me who make up the ‘audience’ at such events. Specifically, I’m going to rant about what I see as Double Standards of Acceptable Behaviour. Please read on….


Going down… Image by Nesster

Let me start with a few questions:

  • What would most teachers do if a student was using a mobile phone (or some other handheld gadget) in class?

Now, I know there are teachers out there who would look for some way to exploit it, incorporate the gadget (and therefore the student) into the lessons and ‘connect’ but I asked about most teachers. Most teachers I have come across would stop the offending gadget being used in some way, either by telling the student to put it away, demanding it be switched off or confiscating it. Agreed? Good - next question.

  • What would most teachers do if a pair or group of students was constantly talking and/or joking throughout the lesson?

Again, there are those who would try to find out what was distracting the students or exploit the topic of conversation dogme-style but, again, we need to think about most teachers. Tell the students to stop talking? Warn them? Separate them? Get angry? Wonder why they don’t take the lessons seriously? I think at least one of those options or some combination of them would be expected.

  • What would most teachers do if a student huffed, puffed and declared “This is boring”?

A show of anger at the sheer cheek on display might be in order followed by a reminder that it is not the teacher’s duty to entertain. Or perhaps the teacher would take it all personally, denting their confidence and adding to growing feelings of self-doubt.

So, if the above are true, why on earth do the very same teachers exhibit exactly the same kind of behaviour in workshops, seminars and presentations? So many times, I have been sat in a talk only to see teachers all around me checking emails, sending messages, viewing websites and even playing games on their smartphones or tablets. Or I have found myself unable to follow what the presenter is saying because people around me are chatting non-stop. They’re either gossiping, talking about plans for the weekend, complaining about being ‘forced’ to attend the current presentation or criticising the presenter and/or the theme of the session.

Would they allow the same kinds of goings-on in their classrooms? Of course not! And we are talking about teachers here - experienced, university-educated adults! If they can’t listen, pay attention and do a few tasks for 45 minutes, why do they expect 10-year old children to be able to do so?!?

I could end it there but I feel an urge to be constructive now that the steam has disappeared from my glasses so I will offer some thoughts on what to do about this issue.

Obviously, the best place for change to come from is within. Teachers sitting through a talk on a Saturday morning could just leave their phones in their bags, pay attention and just accept that this particular session may be a bit boring or seem irrelevant but hope that the next one will be better. Alternatively, we could just put it down to human nature in a ‘boys will be boys’ (and ‘teachers will be teachers’) kind of way…

Or… we could acknowledge that maybe our students don’t give their full attention in class sometimes because they are bored too and they have other things that they would rather be doing or other places they would rather be at that particular moment in time. We could then recognise that this is perhaps why they act up in class sometimes. We could then talk to them about it, involve them, incorporate their ideas, make the learning relevant to them. Engagement and attention then increases and distractions, complaints and teachers with self-doubt are not so common.

Of course, presenters at PD events could on occasion benefit from involving the audience, incorporating their ideas and making things relevant as well but that’s for a future rant. Winking smile


  1. Valuable observations to point out into the readership, Dave. I've probably been one to text while in a workshop, but I was tweeting about the contents: I swear! ;)

    It is a double-standard, and I don't find it acceptable for us anymore than our students. I wonder though what the attitude behind the behaviour really is. Do we think what we are doing is somehow more important than fully paying attention sometimes because we are adults? I think this one usually covers the texting and receiving calls type of behaviour.

    As for complaining and playing games, that's just plain rude in any situation for anyone doing it. Grow up, people. :)

    1. Perhaps we try to pass it off as 'multi-tasking'. ;)

      'Plain rude' reminds me of an unfortunate situation I found myself in a few years ago when I went to give a workshop at a conference in another city here in Turkey with a few colleagues along to attend. Two of them went out on the town the night before, spent the morning sleeping it off in the plenary sessions and then, having recovered somewhat, came to my workshop and spent the entire time chatting and laughing secretly.

      The funny thing was, some teachers got into hot water about taking advantage of the school paying for them to spend a weekend away when we returned but it weas not these two. At the same event, another group of teachers mysteriously disappeared after lunch to spend the afternoon and evening seeing the sights and lazing in cafes on the waterfront. The problem was one of them was dumb enough to share and tag all the photos on Facebook, meanign the Head of Department was none too pleased upon seeing them!

    2. Ha! I'd be totally pissed at my two colleagues. As someone who doesn't drink anymore, I have little sympathy for hangovers when responsibility is had.

      I have to admit that at certain conferences, I've skipped the gala dinner in order to go off gallivanting the host city with friends, but never workshops or plenaries.

  2. Here here. I'm not a conference person, never have been. I went to 2 in London and either I went to all the wrong talks or they were just full of people selling books or stating the obvious. Thanks to the net I can pick n' choose the good ones and pop in and out. Thus, avoiding book confmercials.

    I have seen photos of many people checking phones etc which just supports my belief that talks are tooo long. I mean, there's no way I have enough to say about anything for an hour. 10 minutes or 20 mins is enough. You get over your main points, like Pecha and then they do something or talk.

    We go on and on about students doing tasks and being interactive etc but we still insist on 1 hour conference 'lectures'. Hmmm.

    I am and always have been a weekend worker and unfinanced for conferences so unless I was really going to improve or it would help me in some other way then the decision to attend is a difficult one. Now, having lots of short ones would be better, as well as workshops, interactive sessions, Q&As bla bla.

    1. Good point about the lecture format. As I said, if we can't sit through it, why expect students to do so?

      A series of ten-to-fifteen-minute presentations sounds good. In fact, fifteen minutes is the standard upload limit for YouTube videos... Why not organise an online 'conference' style event with speakers screencasting short presentations? Q&A would then take place through comments either on YouTube or on an accompanying blog/website. Want to help me set it up Phil? ;)

    2. I must disagree. 1 hour is a good amount of time in a workshop to not only have a solid presentation but also time for attendees to participate using the material, then Q&A. Much less makes this difficult. There is value in all types; it just depends on the context of the message.

    3. 1 hour is good for a workshop -in fact, a good workshop could often run longer. However, it's pushing it for a lecture-style talk. And one thing I really can't stand is when I turn up for a 'workshop' and end up sitting through a monologue accompanied by 58 powerpoint slides... hmmm, must go and write a post about that... ;)

  3. Hello Dave!!
    I've been following your blog for a while, but haven't really commented on anything yet. This however rang a bell as I was on a course called "Dealing with difficult learners" this summer. Our trainer subtitled it "Or is it the teachers" and made us look at ourselves pretty hard during the two weeks. People are sometimes completely unaware of what their behaviour is like and how badly the come off and yes, there is a double standard - they'd raise hell for a kid behaving the same way. But if one becomes aware of it, if one figures out what kinds of lectures/workshops just don't work for them - it's a chance to work on their own teaching styles as well as developing some empathy... 'Cause in the end, it's all about empathy one has for the lecturer, isn't it?

    1. Hi Dora and thanks for commenting. :-)

      I like your trainer's approach! Raising awareness often helps people notice things about themselves (which I hope this post has done;)).

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head there when you mentioned paid/forced to attend. The problem is those who are really interested in CPD don't get a chance and the other half gets the opportunity to improve their CSD (Continuous social development)!
    Seriously, I personally think that live conferences will decrease gradually and become more like material-promotion affairs and webinars will take over.

    Here, if presenters aren't on the ball, attendees will just leave the room either visibly or otherwise.

    1. Anytime we are forced to do something, entusiasm and willingness to join in drops, doesn't it?

      And as for presenters... wait for part 3! ;-)

  5. Yes, paid/unpaid.

    I used to be forced to go to TT sessions as I was on contract and they were terrible and I couldn't prep my lessons. Now I'm freelance I wouldn't attend any that aren't paid but I recently gave some of my own. I don't know if the attendees were paid or not but I think they were 'obliged' to be there. Without teachers wanting the help it doesn't work. Thus, I asked about a topic for the 2nd session, prepared it and it did well. Hopefully, I can continue in that direction but there are certain things they have to do too.

    1. Context is key as is being responsive - what kind of teachers are attending? What do they want to get out of the sessions? Always worth finding out if you get the chance.


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