I've just been off on Inset. I've moved on, you'll be pleased to hear, from reading every NQT manual ever printed, and I now feel that Inset holds the key to all my teaching dilemmas. You know those people who devote their whole lives to trying to discover the lost city of Atlantis, or raising the Titanic? I understand where they're coming from. Because in my head I still think that there is one secret, magic formula that makes teaching easy, and if I go on enough Inset days someone is going to reveal it. I can't honestly believe that you work this hard, for so little money, and someone hasn't discovered an easier way. Just look at the invention of Video Plus. I rest my case.
I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Inset. Let's be honest here - it's a day off. It starts late and it finishes early. I always calculate course suitability based on proximity to shops. I love going on the tube at 9.30am with normal people who work in normal offices, and getting a chance to read the paper. When you go on Inset, you can read your horoscope at the beginning of the day, rather than the end when you finally get a chance, and there's no choice but to realise that it's all complete nonsense. It preserves that sense of childish naivety so often missing from the classroom. And you get to indulge your kleptomaniac tendencies and nick enough herbal tea-bags and handily wrapped biscuits to see you through break times till the end of term.
I suppose it also has its down-sides. First of all, you get taught by someone who's been successful and lucky enough to get out of teaching. This always provokes a hostile reaction from the audience, partly fuelled by jealousy, and partly by that inevitable attitude of "You're not there, how can you tell me how it's done?" I love the people who spend the whole day trying to trip up the instructor with questions aimed at proving how out of touch they are with "real" teaching. We have a strange attitude to non-teachers trying to tell us what to do. Our very presence on the course seems to say that we want advice, but our defensive stance says that we will not accept it from you, a non-teacher, whatever you try to tell us. In hort, you get to transform into that unique and rarefied creature: a member of Year 11. Just try it when you're on your next training day. Do you recognise it? That triumph and glee when the instructor can't work the video or the OHP, your sarcastic offers of help, and the swagger as you walk up to show who's really in control of this lesson. The deliberately obtuse questions, the delight in catching the instructor out, the bid for freedom when you decide to stay on your coffee break that extra 10 minutes because you feel like it. There's nothing like a bit of low-level anarchy. It's a good feeling.
It's funny being transformed into the teachee rather than the teacher. You can see where your kids are coming from on an Inset day. I can't be bothered with group work, I think it's stupid. I know I can work in a team. I want to be dictated to for the whole day because it's easier than using my brain. Sometimes I don't even want to listen to the instructor because I've met a really nice teacher who's sitting next to me, and can give me advice about a scheme of work, and I want to talk about it now, even though I know that it's break in 10 minutes. You develop a bird's-eye view on the twin trains of teacher logic and pupil logic - on the same track, locked on a collision course.
I'll know that I've matured as a teacher when I stop going on Inset and expecting it to solve all my teaching problems. The issue, according to my older and wiser colleagues, is that I am part of the three-minute advert, quick-fix generation, who demand instant solutions with minimal work, and persist in thinking that taking one bottle into the shower is better than two. I'll have to learn the hard way that a mock-leather Inset folder with lots of blank paper and a free pen does not a wiser teacher make. In the final analysis, I want Inset to answer one question: what simple formula can you give me that is going to make my life easier, and mean that I have less marking and more time and money to spend with my friends? On second thoughts, perhaps the Holy Grail would be easier.
Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, north London.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org