Keep your opinions to yourself

9th May 2003 at 01:00
Ever looked forward to an in-service training day for more than just the promise of a free lunch and the chance to escape the cacophony of playground duty? We were told that the trainer for our recent day on language teaching had academic kudos as well as classroom credibility. But what followed can only be described as a poorly structured chain of tenuously connected excursions, few of which met the course objectives and even fewer of which took into consideration the nature of the participants.

It went something like this: introduction, group task, followed by the realisation that the groupings did not maximise envisaged task outcomes. Then feedback and the well-known final discussion on things we had gained - or not - from the morning. After lunch, we were exposed to overheads and a wodge of stapled handouts. It was difficult to synchronise the correct page on the handout with the verbal commentary and the toing and froing of the overheads. The trainer directed us to a page on the handout characterised by bullet points. He paused - not for us to catch up, but to express concern about the term "bullet point". We were asked if we knew an alternative to the offending term. Our silence indicated we didn't.

The next excursion took us to the science bit. We were informed that dehydration has a negative impact on learning and that 75 per cent of Americans are dehydrated. Then came the trainer's final detour: "I wonder, does that make (Americans) more warlike?" (To be reminded of the diverse range of opinions expressed by Americans on the subject of military action would be to digress.) The comment went unchallenged. This could have been for any number of reasons:

* the biological post-lunch slump;

* experienced practitioners understand that it is futile responding to rhetoric;

* a combination of the above;

* none of the above.

As is the way with poorly structured training, the mind searches desperately for relevance. All I could think about was whether the trainer would have been as comfortable making a similar comment about a black, Asian or Arab group? I couldn't - and still can't - answer this.

The day highlighted two things: that successful training days need to be rigorously planned, differentiated and context-embedded, and the scary ease with which some educational professionals feel they can exploit professional forums to naively share their implicit and explicit racist views.

As a teacher from a minority ethnic group, I know that racism is professionally divisive and personally painful. Privately, we may all have a group we love to loathe. But please could some of us refrain from revealing our personal loathing in public professional forums.

Anita Beeden teaches at Cranford junior school, Hounslow, west London

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