'In minutes phallic shapes are being waved aloft. Now it really is like my Year 10 class'

29th July 2005 at 01:00
Julie Greenhough continues our summer series with a look at the risks of in-service training, from Play-Doh to Pot Noodles

Those who can, teach; those who can't run Inset courses. That's my philosophy, anyway. You know that feeling, the first day back at the start of the new term. Desperate to reach the photocopier and rustle up some semblance of planning, let alone answer the 52 emails in your inbox. (How can that be, anyway? Who has been in emailing over the holiday?) And what do we have to do? Attend Inset.

Nine o'clock and in we troop. Wonder who they've invited to speak this year? Here he comes, Mr Grey and Dull. Really, he looks so grey I thought it was the Spitting Image puppet of John Major. There's a sidekick, Mrs Grey and Dull. Only difference is that she isn't wearing comedy ankle socks to show us just what a hip, cool guy he is under all that greyness. I am rather surprised when senior management introduces them as "fun and radical". Radical? Really? Remain unconvinced and wait to be entertained.

We are "warmed up" with a team game involving hula-hoops. No, not the savoury snack, the plastic hoops. Then we have to label ourselves with our names. Mr Knights, head of boys' games and ex- Marine, decides to lighten up things on our table by giving us all military ranks for a laugh. Mr Grey and Dull doesn't see the joke and I spend the next four hours being referred to as Sergeant Greenhough every time he talks to me.

It's important to select your table well. Too early and you run the danger of sitting alone. Too late and you are forced to join the senior management team at the front table right in the middle. We are off to the far side right at the back, rather like my Year 10 class.

Next up is a Pot Noodle. Well, actually it's an empty Pot Noodle container with three lumps of Play-Doh inside. Mr Watts is clearly disappointed; he wanted the Pot Noodle. Within minutes, there are phallic shapes being waved aloft. Now it really is like my Year 10 class.

Ninety minutes in and we still have no idea what the theme of the training is, but what is apparent is that Mr and Mrs Grey and Dull have not been near a classroom for years, let alone in an urban environment, and certainly not with teenage boys. All fancy theory and no relevant practice.

They aim to fool us with the ubiquitous ringbinder full of hand-outs, poorly photocopied and doomed to be left languishing on a top shelf. Boredom sets in. We behave just like our pupils and start making unnecessary toilet trips just to get out of the room. Illicit text-messaging breaks out beneath the table and goes unnoticed.

We rouse slightly when given a packet of balloons, some string and a couple of paperclips for yet another "team building" exercise we don't need. We are already a team. Within moments the balloons are blown into yet more phallic shapes and let off around the room to make farting sounds that convulse us with adolescent laughter. Still no idea what the theme of the Inset is. How detached from the reality of teaching are these Inset providers, I wonder? No idea of government pressure, curriculum changes, league tables, exam results, or the psyche of the adolescent.

Of course, there's always the Inset course held out of school. Why are they always in a hotel in Bloomsbury? At least with these we get a lie-in, a chance to get up when it's daylight and a relaxed journey with no huge bag stuffed full of planners held together with Post-It notes and last week's marking. Sadly, the dream of the glossy brochure never really lives up to the reality, does it?

On arrival there are always those dull "My name is..." introductions. I long to make up some ridiculous fake identity but can't face humiliating my school. Inevitably, we are crammed in like battery chickens in a basement room with air conditioning that is either too hot or freezing cold. Still, numbers reduce after lunch as people simply fail to return, claiming "parents' evening". What, at 12.30pm?

Invariably, it turns into a battle between teachers desperate to establish their hardship levels and show off the scars of teaching. You know, the ones who wear their negativity about teaching like a badge of honour they feel obliged to wave at the rest of us. Resources. Appalling. I have never encountered anything more exciting than a flip-chart and red marker pen.

Where's the ICT we have to use in our lessons? The material to suit the different learning styles?

Still, if we make it to the bitter end we get a certificate no one will ever see, and that will get crushed on the way home, and a bizarre bag of freebies. Why do I need a yellow candle, pocket torch and eye mask? Like I said at the start, those who can, teach. Those who can't, leave us alone.

Next week: Hilary wilce on the trouble with Islington

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