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Make light of in-service sessions;Professional development

Which type of course will you be taking next - guilt or non-guilt? Gregor Steele explains the difference.

How many in-service trainers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: after signing in, there will be a talk from the head of the light bulb development unit. We'll break for coffee, then form into groups to study sample light bulbs and see if we agree with the development units wattage ratings. The afternoon session will examine whether light bulbs can be changed using existing resources, and small schools might consider whether a single light bulb could be used to illuminate two or more classes.

There are two kinds of in-service day, guilt-inducing and non-guilt-inducing. The former type involves hopping in your hatchback to a hotel near Paisley to attend a seminar on Higher Something, leaving your class to be covered by either fellow staff or a supply teacher whose train was held up for two hours last time he was out your way.

But we must develop professionally, continuously. To be honest, (as opposed to continuing to be cheaply stereotypical) I have been to plenty of relevant, well-presented sessions on the myriad developments that have taken place in my subject.

Yes, there have been times when I have begun to lose the will to live and occasions when meetings have been hijacked by the shoot-the-messenger brigade, though the latter scenario only erupts among physicists of a certain age when 5-14 and primary science are on the agenda.

I am biased. Three years ago I became involved in training teachers at the 5-11 end of the last-mentioned initiative. Essentially, I was a confidence trickster. Enthusiastically chucking anecdotes around and setting up hands-on activities, I attempted to prove to my audience that they already knew the science they were going to have to teach, or, they had the ability to learn it.

I sympathised. I anticipated their problems. I expressed my view that it was rough that while I was not allowed to teach science to more than 20 pupils at once, primary teachers might have to cope with more than 30. (That was a mistake: I either expressed my view rather badly or somebody with a tabloid hack's talent for misrepresentation took what I said to mean that primary science classes could legally have no more than 20 weans either.) At the end of each course I descended on the participants' evaluation forms as if I were 17 again and opening the envelope containing my Higher results.

Had the training gone well? Yes, no, maybe, yes, no. . .

Content of INSET days aside, there are great pluses attached to each of the two sorts of training sessions. When you go on your guilty away day you get to network with other teachers, that is swap stories with old pals from other schools. On non-guilty in-school days, you can have a hoot at your colleagues' dress sense, and they at yours.

Why do senior management still put on smart clothes? Why do some staff don hill-walking gear? Why do I wear that T-shirt and those cords? In my case it could be because I sometimes end up scrabbling around storerooms looking for equipment for new experiments.

I seem to remember a recent one involving light bulbs. . .

Gregor Steele is now on-line: e-mail

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