Ropey in-service training - no wonder adult pupils want to climb the walls

23rd January 2009 at 00:00

So, Ofsted reckons that if pupils start playing up, it's because we the teachers are boring the pants off them. Well, in that case, there's really only one solution: send the nation's teachers on continuing professional development days, so they can get bored out of their skulls listening to someone with presentation skills to rival those of a woodlouse.

I can pretty much guarantee that lessons will start to improve. There is nothing quite as useful for your own professional development as being so badly professionally developed that you vow never to give a tedious lesson again.

I'm not sure how many in-service training days I've been on - I'm afraid they all seem to blur into one big one, like an alcoholic's weekend. In fact, just as the alcoholic can probably remember ordering the first drink, I can remember the first half-hour or so of each training day. But after that, I have trouble recalling exact details. And, like the old soak in the corner of the pub sitting in front of the log fire, this is probably no bad thing - because at least I had myself a nice nap in a warm room with toilets nearby.

The irritating titles given to these days ought to be enough to put anyone off filling in the application form. I once had the misfortune to attend one all-day session about how to improve the exam grades of underachieving pupils. It was entitled "Maximising the real but deeply hidden daddy-went-to-Oxbridge potential of the able, bright, but currently not making any bloody effort student".

Stupidly, I signed up. By 10.30am, it was coffee time and all we'd done was trudge through "aims and objectives" - droned at us by a woman who didn't look as though an aim or objective was within her grasp even on a good day after three espressos.

By the end of the day, my own potential to gain anything useful from her was "deeply hidden" somewhere, and it was certainly doing everything in its power to resist being maximised.

I carried out an unofficial mini-survey once among 10 of my fellow teachers. I asked them all just one question: how many professional development days have you ever experienced that were presented by a skilled communicator who kept you interested, structured the sessions well, used PowerPoint wisely, and actually targeted the content towards your particular professional needs?

The results? Well, I could barely hear what they were saying by way of reply above all the hysterical laughter, but it did not seem to be good news.

So what can CPD do for you? It can demonstrate that a class of adults finds it just as difficult to concentrate as a class of teenagers. On one course I attended, half an hour into a badly delivered presentation, teachers were playing noughts and crosses on the backs of their shiny brochures, passing notes, making paper aeroplanes out of the serviettes that had come with the complimentary pastries during morning coffee, and were reduced to fits of uncontrollable giggling because the course presenter kept sticking her tongue out every time she turned towards the screen. No surprises there - because there's just no point if there's no power in the PowerPoint.

I've been working with my Year 10 pupils on their oral assessments for English GCSE and I teach them my PowerPoint rules:

- Don't give out the whole of your presentation as notes beforehand.

- Use PowerPoint for back-up images and key words only.

- Don't stand in the way of the beam unless you're actually speaking on "how to get transfigured while squinting" or how to be your own visual aid.

The Year 10s quickly learn what is effective and what isn't. And they manage. So why not "trained" professionals?

Professional development courses can also remind you just how long you can listen to someone talking monotonously before falling into your nodding dog impression. In my case, this is about 10 minutes. After that, my chin hits my chest, I wake with a start, go "Ah" with surprise, and then have to pretend that I was asking an insightful question. A monotone voice, however potentially thrilling the topic, is as good a cure for daytime alertness as I've seen, and this is something to bear in mind on warm afternoons in stuffy classrooms with Year 8, especially as Year 8 pupils tend not to sleep but to fight with compasses. I plan my lessons now so that I never talk (or read from a book) for longer than 10 minutes at a stretch. I swear on my copy of Bleak House this is what CPD has taught me.

What else? You learn that it can be very intimidating to ask a question in case you sound like a dork. You learn that working in groups with your peers and finding stuff out for yourself is fun. And that when teachers photocopy notes with all the words on the very right-hand edge missing, or the print only visible with an electron microscope, you feel you've been sold short.

You learn that working into breaktimes because of poor time management by the teacher makes you want to say the F-word. And that lunch is your favourite lesson of the day - unless all that's on offer is dim sum with unidentifiable damp contents. That, combined with a damp presentation, is enough to make anyone want to flick chewing gum at the walls.

Fran Hill, English teacher at an independent girls' school in Warwickshire.

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