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Doing it for myself

It's Monday morning. My boss is out on a "learning walk" and could be headed my way. But I'm not too worried because I'm ready to project my starter on to the board.

Suddenly a voice pipes up from the back of the room: "Miss, the projector isn't working." I wiggle the cable but to no effect - the screen remains obdurately blue. I try pressing F8. Nothing. I play Flight of the Bumblebee along all the function keys but my PowerPoint refuses to appear. I imagine what my husband would do, but since playing solitaire isn't an option, I'm left with an ugly choice: do I ask my 12-year-old audience for help or phone IT support? The notion that I could fix it myself never crosses my mind.

It is ironic that I encourage my students to be self-reliant because I rarely model this skill myself. This probably explains why they are reluctant to work outside their comfort zone. Whenever they are given a challenging task, they shove up their hands to seek help. In school we pay homage to persistence - assemblies are awash with tear-jerking video clips of people with prosthetic limbs staggering across finishing lines - but in reality most of us limp away at the first sign of trouble.

I thought about this the other night as I tried to use my son's PlayStation. I've managed to get to this ripe old age without ever switching one on, but it was Friday night, I was home alone and desperate to watch the last episode of Breaking Bad. To do this I needed to log on to Netflix, which, since I'd left my laptop at school, could only be accessed via my son's console. Usually my husband does this while I make tea and toast, but since he wasn't there to bail me out I had to do everything myself. The first obstacle was the controller. It looked like a Romulan starship. If they had wanted girls to play with them, they would have made them look like ponies, with silky manes, nail-varnished hooves and an assortment of grooming brushes. Instead I had to grapple with hard black plastic and buttons encrypted with meaningless shapes. It took me 30 minutes to work out that "X" means "enter", "O" means "go back" and the square button does bugger all. Or at least not as far as I could tell - maybe somewhere south of Darlington a nuclear warhead was arming.

After much trial and error, I navigated my way through to Netflix and watched the show. The fact that I had got there myself made me feel fantastic. It might have been one small step for a man, but it was a 26-mile marathon for a technophobe like me.

I realise now how much I underestimate my own abilities. It's not the fear of failure that gets in my way, but the fear of looking like a ninny. I suspect that is what deters the students, too. Maybe we should launch a national It Doesn't Matter If You Look Like A Nincompoop As Long As You Give It A Go Week, in which the children try writing poetry, I fix my projector and we all feel better about who we are.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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