The resident expert on absolutely everything

25th October 1996 at 01:00
A PSE lesson can cover almost any subject. Linda Thomas advises that it is best to be prepared columns.

You thought you were just an ordinary person - Joe Public on the street - well, you're not anymore. The position of Teacher confers the title "resident expert on absolutely anything". You are now able to talk with authority on any subject from how to come across well in an interview, to the ins and outs of the legal system, to how not to get pregnant. You didn't know this? How come? You've got PSE on your timetable, haven't you?

PSE, PHSE, tutorial, or whatever it may be called in your school, is often a contentious issue. It is the part of the curriculum where students are taught the things that everybody agrees children should be taught but don't quite fit into other areas of the curriculum. The difficulty with the subject is how to deliver it. Many staff feel underqualified to teach PSE, especially when compared to their own specialist subject. There is also the question of its status. Year 11 PSE is one of the most dreaded covers in the book. How to get round these problems is the subject of hours and hours of meetings in schools every year and now is not the time to go into it. However, there are some ways to make it easier.

It is crucial to prepare thoroughly, to get to know the classroom material before you present it to the kids and to read around the subject. Speed reading skills may come in handy: hopefully your head of year will always give you the work well in advance, but you may find yourself with one break-time to familiarise yourself with the finer points of the county courts of England and Wales.

You will do well to find different ways of running the lessons. There are only so many posters that kids can do before they get fed up. You can build in role plays, interviews, TV discussion shows as well as letters, leaflets, newspaper articles, poems etc. Vary group sizes as well. You don't have to go for whole-class discussions all the time and you will probably find that students are more forthcoming if they discuss more sensitive subjects in small groups, which can then report back if necessary.

You will be dealing with issues very close to your groups' hearts and you will be asking them to reveal personal information. It is essential that they feel secure. Knowing that Johnny Herbert is going to shout names at Sarah Mouse isn't going to encourage her to describe how she coped with a bully.

Establish and reinforce ground-rules. It's a good idea to set these at the beginning of the year but worth repeating the exercise as you go into a topic like sex education. As well as all the usual ones you may want to guide them towards the idea of not repeating anything they hear outside the lesson. Pass the responsibility for keeping to these rules over to them; just remind transgressors of what they have agreed to.

You may also find that some of the questions are very difficult, either because you don't know the answer or because the subject is so personal. There may be occasions when a lesson will prompt a child to disclose something worrying. It is only fair to the kids to explain where you stand.

I always tell them that if I don't know an answer I will say so and then try to find out. They are allowed to ask me questions which I will promise to answer honestly but I reserve the right not to answer questions if they are too personal. I am happy to talk individually to students after the lesson but I can't guarantee confidentiality if they tell me something that must be passed on.

Once you have said this, you must stick to it. If your group don't trust you they won't talk to you.

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