Inset: an acronym that can strike fear into the hearts of us all. Or, equally, bring a smile of welcome at the comforting realisation that, even though term has officially begun, you will at least be able to take 40 winks as a warm-up.
I’m not sure what type of Inset you were subjected to this September, but the thing that struck me the most about ours, as I listened, rapt, to our school nurse instructing us how to use a defibrillator, was this: my, how Inset has changed. Our training was not for the faint-hearted – we were told about the need to shave the chests of colleagues (the general thinking was that it would be staff, not students, who might require this type of intervention) so that the defib sticky pads could make a proper connection before we shocked the person back to life.
Visions of Dr Doug Ross and McDreamy (from ER and Grey’s Anatomy, for the uninitiated) began swirling in my head, as I knew I might get the opportunity to yell “CLEAR!” before saving the lives of all my hirsute colleagues.
The face of Inset has been slow to change. I remember one session about displays years ago: we had all been asked to collect bin bags, cardboard boxes and any tat we could find, as we would need to “self-resource”.
The great day arrived: there was much anticipation and more than a little snoring as the charming “facilitator” and her beleaguered husband burst into life. With her trusty staple gun tucked under her armpit (disappearing rather too frequently beneath her ample bosom), she cajoled us into creating masterpieces of design from stuff you’d usually put in the bin.
We did try to follow suit over the next half-term. Our rooms were resplendent with old newspapers, takeaway cartons and empty toilet rolls (in the pre-health and safety days when you were allowed to use toilet rolls), until we finally admitted defeat and returned to our symmetrical borders.
Another session was led by a “resting” actor who made us introduce ourselves using guttural animal noises to reflect our personalities. There was more than a little eye-rolling at that one.
And what about the training that came under the heading of promoting wellbeing? Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of this type of support as I feel strongly that the wellbeing of staff should be the senior leadership team’s number one priority. But this day was led by a yoga teacher who had one of those irritating “calm” voices and who kept telling us what we should be experiencing.
Towards the end of the session, as she instructed us to simply breathe through our noses, I and many of those around me dissolved into fits of laughter when one of my colleagues couldn’t prevent her nostrils from whistling every time she breathed. Desperately trying to remain Zen, but with an edge to her voice, the yoga teacher told us that it was healing to laugh, just not right now.
To get the best out of Inset, my feeling is that it should not only instruct us in all the statutory “stuff” we indisputably need – and allow us time to get into class and have departmental meetings – but also genuinely enthuse us.
Zareena Huber teaches English at a school in North London