A turn for the worse

12th May 2006 at 01:00
A secondary specialist returned to the classroom as a supply teacher and found a tangle of technology and little changed for the better.

So, after a gap of more than a decade, I have returned to classroom teaching. While it was obviously a daunting prospect, even scarier was getting through the new bureaucratic regulations. Being a secondary specialist, I was keen to teach my subject and decided to sign up with several authorities.

Only one showed any common sense and accepted my General Teaching Council for Scotland number, previous teaching experience and my own evidence of recent ongoing visits to schools as clear proof that I was not public enemy number one and a danger to children.

The remainder demanded completion of a disclosure form and detailed proof of my identity. Copies of birth certificate and passport were not acceptable and, not trusting the postal service, this would necessitate personal and time-consuming visits to authorities throughout central Scotland.

My plea that I had a recent Disclosure Scotland clearance, courtesy of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, fell on deaf ears - and yes, I would need a separate disclosure for each authority. As a council taxpayer, I despair at the amount of money spent and time wasted - surely one recent disclosure clearance should be acceptable to authorities and the significant money saved spent on pupils.

One authority with a desperate shortage of supply staff demanded an interview regardless of experience - so they were quickly scored off my list. Luckily, I was able to make my Disclosure Scotland pilgrimage to the respective headquarters during school holidays. And having now collected five disclosure forms, I was able to pass Go and enter a classroom.

Finally, I had the opportunity to see how much schools had changed in the past decade. Had social inclusion created classroom hell for the ordinary pupil and teacher or had it created a more inclusive and enriching experience for all pupils? Had technology transformed learning, had interactive whiteboards created independent learners eager to increase their subject knowledge and enquiry skills?

What impact did the national priorities and their offshoots of Assessment is for Learning and A Curriculum for Excellence have on the behaviour and motivation of staff and pupils? Surely the daily trials and tribulations experienced by Morris Simpson in his monthly TES Scotland column are simply the exaggerated spleen of an incompetent teacher?

I found that technology has indeed changed the classroom but not quite in the way I expected. I thought the mobile phone might be a source of disquiet, but it was the MP3 player that created several flashpoints in the classroom. The chorus that "we are allowed to play it while we work" was a new source of irritation. Schools should ban its presence and so prevent sterile argument with groups of pupils determined to challenge the teacher.

The new technologies to assist administration, such as taking the register, create no favours for the supply teacher. Many schools use Click and Go which, for the supply teacher, should be retitled Click and Fail.

Another problem facing the supply teacher is accessing the technologies. In one school, I was advised to use the PowerPoint presentations set up by the absent teacher; unfortunately, I did not have the password.

I much prefer departments that use textbooks rather than worksheets; at a glance, I can see where the class is coming from and can direct and control the lesson. I can also enrich it by creating additional differentiated support activities.

Pupils have not changed. There are the quiet ones whose names you will not remember and the ones who demand your attention and whose names are continuously said or shouted aloud by yourself in a vain attempt to get them to work quietly or participate in classroom discussion.

The mixed-ability lottery in S1 and S2 has not changed either. In one school, I was lulled into a false sense of security: the S2 class was eager to engage in discussion and work, and even the talkative and mildly disruptive worked well. This was what teaching was all about.

The following day, and at the same time, a different S2 class appeared to be taught the same lesson. Alas the outcome was different; I should have guessed.

Five pupils presented me with a behaviour form to sign at the end of a difficult and frustrating lesson. I felt sorry for the majority of pupils in this class who are denied the ethos of achievement and enjoyment which permeates the other S2 group.

The author is a secondary supply teacher.

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