Spare us this slow torture by boredom

1st April 2005 at 01:00
I was just daydreaming my way through illegible overheads and a poorly planned presentation with monotonous delivery when in my head a bell rang and, hey ho, I heard a voice saying that teachers should provide highly diverse lessons with attention-holding strategies so that pupils have the best possible environment in which to learn. Well?

I realised that I had dropped off into some reverie of my own when the sound of my own tutting jolted me to attention. Yes, I was the victim of an excruciatingly boring in-service training session.

All credit then to Penny Ward for writing so eloquently and humorously regarding the timing and poor quality of training sessions for teachers (TESS, March 18). We would be hung, drawn and quartered for setting down in front of our pupils the kind of garbage teachers have to tolerate for too much of the time. Absolutely scintillating material is needed for the pupils. Paradoxically, teachers have to make do with performances from amateurs.

Take newly qualified teachers. Speaking to a selection of them convinces me of the paucity of training programmes in most local authorities. Often pensioners are wheeled out of retirement to address these inexperienced newcomers and impart devastating advice such as "arrive on time for interviews" and "leave the plunging necklines at home", advice imparted at school to our senior pupils.

This is alarming and all the more so when you consider the truth of Douglas Weir's comments in the same edition of The TES Scotland that teacher education is suffering from inertia. This is so, not only for student teachers and newly qualified teachers, but for those of us who have been in the profession longer than we wish to remember. Why did so many of us read Penny's comments and sigh with palpable empathy?

We too have been there. We drug ourselves. Tea? Coffee? Yes, please.

Anything to numb the reality. Hmmm, one of the most deadly in-service sessions I have been to was conducted by a member of HMIE. He committed every wrong trick in the very book he uses to assess the classroom teachers he visits in the course of his inspecting duties. Quite apart from addressing us in one of those robotic recorded telephone voices saying you've won a luxury holiday to Barbados (but you know it's a con), not once in one hour did he draw breath and allow questions.

He was lucky that we handled our fuming resentment daintily, buoyed up by the luxury of the hotel and the promise of a decent lunch. We didn't mince our words on the evaluation form, though. You'll get my drift.

I find all of this to be utterly inexcusable. People in high places who claim to have something meaningful to impart to the rest of us should get some decent professional training on how to present themselves. It's not unreasonable to expect a little more than the quality of a General level Standard grade English score. Teachers need to be a lot more vociferous in their condemnation of useless training sessions, in terms of content and delivery.

Most of the time at work, I am reasonably calm, experience ups and downs and sulk and laugh along with the rest of you. But there is nothing like poor quality teacher training to bring on a dose of the blues. Sometimes I tell myself not to worry, but it's in the same kind of voice used by the pilot as the aircraft plunges terrifyingly into an air pocket.

Of course, we should all worry hugely because decent continuing professional development is an essential tool in a profession which gets harder by the day. No wonder Penny Ward alludes to the glass of wine. The very thought of it sometimes feels like the only thing to stand between us and sanity. Cheers.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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