Better than accountancy
Like many of her fellow finalists in this year's Teaching Awards, Angela Gaunt - "everyone calls me Angie"- remembers one teacher with special gratitude. The north-west regional winner of the most creative use of ICT (secondary) was studying secretarial subjects at Park Lane college in Leeds, where Desmond Bath was a lecturer. "He just said to me, 'Don't be an accountant, Angie - you'd hate it. Be a teacher instead.' I took his advice and I've never regretted it." Then she laughs. "Well, hardly ever."
So she trained as a business studies teacher, went to work in London, first in Hackney and then in Tower Hamlets, married her head of department, became an advisory teacher, bought one of the very first PCs, caught the computing bug - and never looked back. Her colleagues at the Inner London Education Authority remember her as "a perky sparrow", a description she likes."Sparrows are chirpy, busy creatures, always hopping about. That's a good description of a teacher." She laughs again. "Mind you, I think they're both endangered creatures."
Ten years ago she and her husband moved to Cheshire, and Angie began a happy period in charge of ICT at William Beamont school in Warrington. "It's 11-16 - not tough, but not easy either. It's not by any means a wealthy area; there's quite a lot of social deprivation." Three years ago a new head arrived, and Angie saw her chance. "The equipment we had was limited and ageing. I told him that if we replaced it I could guarantee it would make a difference to the children's learning."
Somehow, replace it they did - and the difference was duly made. Now, there's a six-classroom, 150-work-station grid with Internet access via the local FE colleges and linked to local primaries. All pupils have discrete ICT provision, and teachers in every curriculum area book workstation space for their classes as and when they need it. GCSE students have individual email addresses and all pupils (includig top-year primary classes) can use the system from 8am (when the school's breakfast service opens) until 5pm. After that, it's open weekly for adult classes, and there are regular sessions for parents.
It takes more than a good network, though, to make real changes. According to her head, Angie is, "quite simply, an outstanding teacher. She has inspired thousands of pupils and hundreds of adults." Angie demurs. "It's just that people see me as a very positive person. I love the learning power that ICT creates but I'm not at all a technofreak. I like to support people - and people in turn support me."
The scale of her achievement suggests that she is being over-modest. Ten non-specialist teachers contribute to the school's IT timetable, all of them trained by her. She leads the school's New Opportunities IT programme, manages the support team and gives ICT coaching to primary school staff.
In her non-contact time (a misnomer if ever there was one) she teaches ICT to Year 5s and 6s, freeing their own teachers to practise their new-found skills. Even the headteachers benefit: shrewdly (and tactfully) she set up an ICT support group for them.
Yet she insists there is no secret. "It works because we work together" is all she will say. "Schools are just like families - different ages, different strengths, different needs - but always one common purpose. We work together to keep our families strong. As teachers we do just the same in school. Everybody has something to offer."
The national final of the Teaching Awards at the Millennium Dome will be broadcast on BBC1 on November 5
ANGELA'S TOP TIPS
* believe in the children and always focus on the positive things about them.
* Make time to reflect on your lessons and your classroom relationships
* Have high expectations. Pupils see this as challenging and rewarding
* Support your colleagues, teachers and non-teachers
* Share the learning outcomes with your classes and keep them on task.
* Take opportunities whenever they arise