Experts, jugglers, tossers - please note

8th May 2009 at 01:00

I remember an old radio comedy sketch in which a pirate is urging his men to attack a ship, and there is a sudden shout of: "We wants a training day!" This was followed by requests for in-service supports for various piratical activities. It made me laugh, which is more than I can say for the real thing (in-service that is, not piracy).

God, I've spent some dreadful hours, even days, being read to, bored, patronised and angered by various "experts" who, almost to a man - or woman - failed to engage with anyone in the room. From small-group training, to whole-school or learning-community-wide events, I have experienced many soporific, bum and brain-numbing occasions.

There have been a few good ones, but not many; more often than not, a good lunch is the most enjoyable part. The most unforgettable, however, are lodged in my memory for all the wrong reasons.

I was once in a hall of several hundred teachers who were being taught to juggle (honest!); on another occasion, we were told to proclaim: "I'm a choo-choo", and chug round a room collecting passengers (I declined); more than once, I witnessed an expert on communication disorders seemingly demonstrate that he, too, had one; and who will forget the world-renowned expert on memory and study skills who forgot the headteacher's name before muddling his way through a messy delivery on memory and study skills.

These, plus many more, came back to me recently, when our complete learning community, plus sundry support staff, police and others, were treated to an almost live beamback of our beloved director, beaming from a giant screen to address us about something so important that most of us have forgotten it. It was the big screen, and the Orwellian - I heard the word many times that day - nature of the address which was so memorable.

All around me, people shuffled papers and feet, sighed, texted, picked noses and horses, or dropped off while this giant image went on, and on. Then two highly-paid sidekicks read in turn from a handout which was so important that we couldn't be trusted to read it for ourselves. The readings, I have to say, lacked quality - although, to be fair, Richard Burton might have struggled to inject life into the subject, whatever it was.

When it was over and we had left 1984 behind, there was the silence which normally follows something monumental: in this case, a monumental bore. It did seem like the in-service equivalent of cracking a small nut with a large hammer, and then blowing it up for good measure. A good example of an over-blown over-reaction to a perceived gap in our collective training needs.

Yet, in all my years, from all the training I have been subjected to, only one day sticks in my mind for the correct reasons. It was about behaviour management and was presented by a lovely, serene lady who opened with: "The trouble with common sense is it's not very common" - and then just got better.

If only some of our experts, leaders, trainers, jugglers and other tossers had been there.

Michael Coyle, teaches in Glasgow.

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