The dark side of the whiteboard - Hufflepuff from Dumblebore

3rd December 2010 at 00:00

We've just had double twilight. Sadly, instead of Edward Cullen's sparkling skin and unrequited passion, we had to endure the principal's glistening forehead and the world's longest-running PowerPoint. If you're a teacher suffering from stress-induced insomnia, get in touch. I guarantee that by slide 36 of "The history of pedagogy in the North of England" you will be cured. Slide 49 was all about pace. Even an American would have got the irony.

To make matters worse, these twilight inset sessions came on the back of a murderous fortnight of intensive assessing pupils' progress and synchronised data entry. As my mother used to say, they'll take your eyes and come back for the sockets. Of course, our SMT knew we would be up in arms, so they threw in a hasty buffet: three plastic platters of warm sausage rolls and the sort of cheese and tomato pizza fingers you would normally see mashed into high chairs.

The interminable PowerPoint was not enhanced by the principal's address. His focus was the importance of student progression. Progression, he declared, was the way forward. I wondered if he had been reading George W Bush's autobiography. Then, to highlight the importance of transition between levels, he delivered a few dismal anecdotes about his own extra-curricular learning journey.

It's hard to take a man seriously when he admits to playing the piccolo. While he delighted in the joys of his own small instrument, the rest of us struggled to stay awake. I managed it by playing wink murder, and measuring a colleague's cleavage with a Smarties tube theodolite.

Eventually, the principal fumbled his way to his finale. Thanks to his conscientious music teacher, regular A4L, and aspirational targets, he declared that he had just made the transition from beginner to intermediate. If only the same could be said of his public speaking.

Following his closing remarks, the management sorted us into groups. Now, over the past few years my school has bought heavily into Dr Spencer Kagan's co-operative learning techniques, so "groups" for us means heterogeneous, mixed-ability teams of four, deliberately structured with high, medium-high, medium-low and low abilities. Our SMT obviously used the same sorting hat to mix up staff, because every group contained a Slytherin rocket scientist and a pencil licker from Hufflepuff. I was in with physics, geography and design and technology. I am hoping that puts me in Gryffindor.

We were given a task: compare national curriculum KS3 assessment grids from a range of different subjects and focus on the level descriptors to identify common phrases. The aim was to collate a word bank of cross-curricular vocabulary. The findings were surprising. Across the school, we share a common pedagogical language when it comes to describing progression. We all used similar key terminology such as "understand" and "identify" to describe low and medium attainment, while at the top, teachers were unanimous in "evaluating" that "we could have sussed this out at lunchtime" and "we'd all rather be at home cooking tea".

The principal concluded by promising to email us his treatise on education. It arrived the next morning: a turgid 3,000-word paper on "The Importance of Progression", with a 16pt, illustrated, full-colour option in case you work in Hufflepuff.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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