'Becky won't be discouraged by the odd crash'

25th October 1996 at 01:00
It helps to have IT capability from the very start: new recruits to Jon O'Connor's school will know what to do if they see a mouse. I'm looking for a role model. At lift-off minus five, on a balmy first day of term in autumn, Becky seems unnervingly calm and collected. Me, I keep replaying the old joke: "Mummy, mummy, I don't want to go to school." "But you must, dear - you're the headteacher." By the end of day one, I'm positively chirpy, encouraged by another successful selection process.

Becky is looking good. She has established her classroom well, organised furniture and resources like an experienced professional. She has a firm grip on the first 48 hours of her career, and she asks for help when she needs to - which is essential. Our team consists of strong individuals, who have sufficient resilience and good humour in a tough job to make newcomers feel supported and welcome.

Information technology features on our person specification for every appointment we make now. Applications provide the first physical measure of candidates' IT awareness. In interview, we look for awareness of developments, personal competence and a sense of the practical organisation of IT in the classroom. Year by year, I'm more impressed by the crop of computer-competent newly qualified teachers reaping the investment of the mid-Eighties.

Lucy joined us last year from the same Oxford college as Becky. A key selling point on her CV was her interest in IT. Lucy's initial training included a dozen lectures praising the potential of information technology. While not over-flattering about these sessions, she was grateful for access to a Nimbus network and a battery of educational software to borrow for use during teaching experiences. Crucially, there was also an Apple Mac suite for personal use.

She uses word-processing more than any other software for such tasks as group writing, reflecting her own area of greatest confidence and competence. Lucy has been polite but direct about problems with school hardware, unobtrusive in suggesting innovation and articulate about information technology as a rights issue.

She believes in providing equality of access and opportunity in terms of IT, which is not an easy task. Lucy talks of finding the appropriate location for IT in the curriculum and of children using IT both as an all-purpose tool to be explored and as a resource for specific subject areas.

She argues that functional IT skills, such as file-handling and keyboardmouse facility, should be introduced as early as possible. She is proud of children becoming independent enough during her first year of teaching to change text appearance and use embellishments such as borders and word-art in desktop publishing packages.

Susanna joined us as a newly-qualified teacher at the same time as Lucy. She shows the same positive and open attitude to teaching, together with a commitment to professional development. Her classroom is orderly, richly visually stimulating: a place to make yourself at home. All of which helps in the use of IT.

Her confidence with computers belies what she feels was limited experience in her initial training, linked to curriculum-focused phases of her course. Like Lucy, she cites the main benefit of college as building her personal confidence as a computer-user. Sue works with four and five-year-olds. She comments wryly on the confidence with which her young children experiment at random in front of a screen, with results that are not always as structured as one might wish.

The overall specification for our staff could broadly be described at a quest for thinkers, people who show initiative and have a powerful learning instinct. They deserve the holy grail in terms of IT - a system that is 100 per cent guaranteed to work from the power point. Each class has a PC workstation with a colour printer - hooked up to a mixed bag of software. There is the universal toolkit of word-processors, graphics, and data handling. There is a scattering of SMILE maths investigations, CD-Rom software, which misbehaves at times, and some nice new geography material for local studies.

The network behaves reasonably well most days, but is far from foolproof as yet. Becky won't be discouraged by the odd crash, though. She'll work alongside children at the computer and show that their work is important. Her interest in technology will rub off. In her classroom, there are already crisply-printed labels on pots and jars of small collectable art materials. Teaching by example.

The first hurdle has been passed. When it comes to the whistle on the second day, she shows no signs of suffering the lurching stomach-somersaults which I remember when face-to-face with pale, tear-stained cheeks on the first day at school. And yes, it's a parent who is crying. The children and Becky gaze with sympathy at the parent and the children stay calm with her. A good role model.

Jon O'Connor is head of Parkside First School in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.

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