I'm in with the inservice;Professional development

25th September 1998 at 01:00
Jackie Cockburn becomes a pupil for a day and learns some alarming facts of life

It was the personal and social education staff inservice day and a motley crew of cross-curricular caring sharing teachers were gathered in the spacious school music rooms, but we weren't all singing the same song. We had struck a note of discord over how socially acceptable smoking really is.

We had been asked to stand in line grading our response to the statement : "Smoking is socially unacceptable." Grade 1 was strongly agree. Grade 5 was strongly disagree. A few flurries of bickering were breaking out. ("I think all smokers should have to pay for their own medical treatment." "Oh, you do, do you? Come over here and say that!") We were predictably strung out and segregated just as we are at intervals and lunchtimes between the smokers' and non-smokers' staffrooms, but there was a new twist as I realised I was at the opposite end from Stephen, the co-op teacher with whom I had been designated to team teach PSE in the new block of teaching time. It was clear a united front would not be presented to the pupils on this particular issue.

Twenty of us had given up a day of our holidays to prepare for this new course. We anticipated a day where we could care and share. Bond. Harmonise. Gel. Empathise. Team build.

It was early days but the first coffee break hadn't arrived and two members of staff were already offering "haunners" to the chap who wanted to move the discussion about the smoking out into the staffroom. (Was this good for school ethos?) We calmed down enough for a pleasant lunch after which we moved onto sex and drugs and alcohol. Opinions varied but a sense of humour reigned and we decided men really are from Mars and women from Venus, especially after you've imbibed a few or partaken of an illegal substance.

We fared a little better at the group work as the excitement of being handed a giant sheet of flip chart paper and some coloured markers worked its soothing magic on us just the same as it does on 4F.

We were asked to draw a typical 14-year-old. Our group, rather wittily I thought, called ours Kevin and applied a speech bubble with the words "It's not fair!" Now we were having fun.

Each group was asked to list a set of changes the typical 14-year-old was undergoing from a choice of physical, emotional, social and intellectual. The results made gruesome reading: it's a wonder anyone from third year ever listens at all.

The presence of a biology teacher and a few extremely frank members of the male staff led to the startling revelation (for me at least) that there is a phenomenon among teenage boys called spontaneous erection.

Acne I knew about, and faced stoically every day (although I do avoid pizza at the school canteen now) but this was something new. Should I be alarmed? Should the girls be armed? I decided it best to act like this was not news to me and have a softly, softly approach to the subject. Best not to let it grow into something bigger than it wasI The objectives of the day had been to give us the chance to discuss relevant issues in PSE, experience a range of teaching methodologies and work with colleagues, but the main thing I experienced (apart for a growing sympathy for teenage boys) was laughter and a chance to experience what it is like to be a pupil again.

It helps to work day out day in with a great bunch of colleagues, but how will you ever find out how great they are and how you empathise with them unless you have the chance on a pupil-less day to loosen up and share some views and ideas? It helps if the in-service is taken by a visiting expert who can help maintain an open atmospehre.

As a pupil for the day, I learned a few not-to's. The "teacher" would ask us to do something but then not give us enough time to complete the task. Frustrating for us, how much more so for 2B every week.

We would sometimes be set off on a task without clear instructions and be left wondering what to do. Do we ask the facilitator to explain again, drawing attention to the fact we are idiots or do we sit in silence?

Other times we would be so involved in what we were doing that we'd feel unable to stop and listen to the next set of instructions. All of our talking was "on-task" but would we get shouted at for not listening if we were in your class? Or would you wait patiently for us to come to attention?

The experience made me realise that children aren't necessarily being rude when they don't pay attention immediately. They, like us, are not robots.

In a gi-normous school like mine, in-service provides a chance to get to know my colleagues better. I now find my co-op teacher socially acceptable even if I still think his smoking is not! Now if I can just find out how he feels about spontaneous erections

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