No such thing as being on course for a free lunch

14th March 2008 at 00:00
My head of department says, "Fancy going on this course?" I says, "OK, where?" He says, "Some London hotel." I says, "Might be a three-course hot lunch in it, then. I'll go." He says, "Right, I'll book you in."

There's a pause. Then, "D'you want to know what the course is?" he says. He's got a point. It might be "Teaching the Apostrophe using Interactive Whiteboards" or "Hands Up or Down: An Exploration of Verbal Assessment Practices". Even dining at The Ivy wouldn't compensate for that.

"OK, what?" I says. "It's about the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's changes to English A-levels," he says. Cornered, I says, "All right, then. But if it's only damp dim sum for lunch, you take my Year 11s some time last lesson on a Friday." "It's a deal," he says.

Having your professionalism continually developed has to be worth it, see. Why? Because it creates work. Here's what it meant for me:

First, I had to set cover to satisfy everyone: senior management, cover teachers, the students and me. This was like cooking a one-pot meal for a vegetarian, a Burger King addict, someone on the Hay diet and a visitor from a little-known island off the African coast. No one was going to be completely happy. And I had to think about what I'd be dealing with when I got back. Set essays? More marking. Worksheets? Less marking, more guilt. Group work? Tetchy email from cover teacher. Videos? Quiet word from the head. So the cover-work decisions took most of the day.

Second, I had to teen-proof my classroom. I teach in there most of the time and it's my Year 11 form room, so it's littered with my books, files, marking and so on. Normally, the kids know I might come in at any point to fetch something, so impromptu pizza parties and football tournaments are unwise. My stuff is fairly safe. But without me around? I couldn't be sure, so I spent an hour after school clearing it all into cupboards and drawers, then got distracted by what was in those piles: things I'd lost, marking, lesson ideas and a heap of Year 7 display work, which I pinned up hastily. Did I say an hour?

Then, the course being at the end of the week, I suddenly realised I had to take everything home with me. That included marking and lesson planning. Where was it all? Yes, in the cupboards and drawers, nicely tidied away.

The course was very helpful and I'm glad I went. But when I got back, all the essays I'd set (coward) were there waiting for me, and I had to write up for my department what I'd learnt from the course. The whole thing dragged on like a Proust novel you're only reading for your own good.

And the lunch? Well, put it like this: I thought the idea of microwaving was to get the heat into the middle of the mashed potato, but apparently not. I hope my head of department is planning a good lesson for those Year 11s. No videos allowed.

Fran Hill, Teacher at an independent school in London.

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