Horses for courses;Career development

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Choosing a course to boost your career can be full of hurdles. Jean Maskelleases the way.

Choosing a course that will help further your career is not as simple as it sounds. Assuming that you have already broadly analysed what type of course you need and what you want to achieve, how do you choose from the wide variety available?

The professional development of teachers is high on the Government's agenda and the opportunities available have never been more extensive. Providing courses and development opportunities is, therefore, big business.

Providers range from those that seek to support and develop educators such as local education authorities, trade unions and charitable bodies, through public and semi-public agencies to the purely commercial business-orientated market. The quality varies widely in every sector, and neither price nor agency guarantees quality.

Consider whether the subject matter can be dealt with in a day, a couple of days, or whether it needs to be spread over a longer period to enable techniques to be applied or for reading and research. A lot will depend on exactly what the subject matter is and your learning style.

Can you listen to a lecture and go away enlightened; do you lovehate role-play; do you read and absorb easily or do you need to discover? How easily do you change? Will you feel worthy for a day or two, then carry on as before? Do you need some on-going support?

While all these things are important, your choice of course will probably be strongly influenced by how long you can be away from work. Despite knowing all the theory about learning experiences, teachers rarely apply this logic to themselves, being too guilty or too harassed to commit themselves to time out of school.

It is a great help if the school ethos accepts training and on-going development as normal and necessary. But even if this is the case, things can stillgo wrong.

Sheila, an experienced primary teacher in the north of England, says courses are often not described properly. "I've been on courses where they put you in groups to discuss and do feedback, and at the end of the day you realise that they (the presenters) have done nothing and you've wasted your time."

LEAs can help to ensure that days are not wasted in this way. Solihull Metropolitan Council, for example, tailors advice to individual needs. Lynn Kent, of their educational personnel section, says: "The first step is for a teacher to talk to the inspector for in-service training and get some direction based on what they have already done and what's best for that individual."

Before you decide on a course, look through the general and subject-specialist educational press; contact your local and neighbouring LEA, higher-education providers, trades unions and training enterprise council; and check out the Internet. Balance the cost and inconvenience of travelling with the suitability of the course. When you have short-listed a few possibles, get in touch and ask for details. Don't just accept the often woefully inadequate leaflets.

You should also contact providers to ask what experience the trainers have, the aims and learning outcomes of the course, what material you will receive to take away and what follow-up support is available. If you have special requirements, then use the equal opportunities policies of the training provider to get that support.

That extra effort before you go will ensure that you really do gain and grow. The quick-fix course may be quick, but it may also be a waste of time.

The Teacher Training Agency, tel: 0171 925 3700; Educational Management and Administration Society, tel: 0114 225 2328The Education Year Book, available at the LEA or local library, lists all LEAs, teachers' and educational associationsJean Maskell is an assistant education officer with Liverpool education authority.

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