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You can tick the box and not be trapped

Professional development is a 'wonderful opportunity' at any stage of a career, says Sandra Percy.

Scanning the May 21 issue of The TES Scotland, the words "energise, enthuse, influence and inspire" caught my attention, as did the contents of Neil Paterson's article "CPD needs to avoid the tick-box trap". I initially found it hard to believe that Neil Paterson was using such words to describe teachers today.

These words brought back memories of when I started teaching 29 years ago.

At that point in time (rose-tinted spectacles on, of course), young teachers like myself were eager to participate in the lives of the schools in which they taught - on a voluntary basis. It was unheard of that, each time you did something, you could put a tick in a box and deduct the hours spent on the task from the 35 hours or whatever had to be completed each session.

I am sure that if I had adopted such an approach I would have removed my rose-tinted spectacles a lot sooner than I did. At that time, teachers actually enjoyed participating in activities which involved pupils.

In retrospect, I feel it is my experience of such activities that provided me with what I now recognise as firm foundations for my own generally good relationships with pupils, which Neil Paterson clearly views as being at the heart of good teaching and which many managers of teachers clearly overlook.

As someone who has taught for such a long time and remained simply a classroom teacher, I have taken charge of what is now termed my professional development. Inspired, and I do not use the word facetiously, by a desire to learn more about education, I studied for an MEd at Edinburgh University. Thankfully I became a "mistress of the masters" and loved every minute of it.

I subsequently was "persuaded" and, if I am honest, it did not take a lot of persuasion, to continue my studies and I eventually managed to obtain a PhD in education from the university in 1996. Again, I loved every minute of it. Indeed I was "energised, enthused and inspired" - so much so that I decided to continue my studies, taking up scuba diving.

I openly admit that I found this extremely challenging both mentally and physically: I was out of my depth, literally and metaphorically. Joking aside, I am sure my feelings of insecurity and fear are very similar to those which many young people feel when they are sitting in examination halls faced with turning over a paper. My life, like theirs, depended on how I performed.

Due to the fact that retirement is now, and I freely admit, thankfully, looming large, I decided to embark on the chartered teacher programme.

While I have grave doubts about the underlying reasons for the introduction of such programmes, the increase in salary will enhance my pension. I also knew that it would allow me to "tick the box" for my continuing professional development (CPD) submission.

While I may be old and perhaps cynical, deep down I naively thought that return to study would once again provide me with the "spark".

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. I have completed module 1 on self-evaluation - and found that it, like most of the in-service provision to which I have been subject in recent years, concentrated on what Neil Paterson termed the "deficit approach".

Every cloud, however, has a silver (not pink) lining. Sitting there on those sunny Saturday mornings, I found myself re-evaluating my position with regard to the profession in which I have spent the majority of my life. I initially felt deeply sad that this is what education has been reduced to - and I was literally ticking boxes - but then I became aware of the fact that these lectures had "energised, enthused, influenced and inspired me".

While there may have been a flash of sunlight through the window, I realised that this could have been a major moment in my life. I now know what I want to do. Once my pension is enhanced, I intend to pursue my interest in the extent to which education, a public sector service, can be managed according to criteria utilised in the market-place or business world.

To achieve this, I intend initially to apply to study for the professional diploma in management. For me, making such a decision has been traumatic because for the first time I will be moving away from working with the pupils who have been at the centre of my work and, indeed, my life, for so long.

For me, CPD has, hopefully, provided what Neil Paterson hoped it would - "a wonderful opportunity". I feel that I now have an aim and that my last few years in teaching will, as in the past, be positive and perhaps a little pink. I also know that I will be able to tick yet another box - but that I am not trapped.

Sandra Percy is a secondary teacher.

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