Celebration of a centenary

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Walter Humes is research professor in education at Paisley College

With today's column, I have achieved something rarely managed by the England cricket team - I have scored a century. Yes, believe it or not, this is the 100th article in the series. It has prompted me to reflect on the experience of writing for The TESS.

When I was first asked to become a regular contributor I was a little uncertain, but I accepted for two reasons. First, it gave me an opportunity to communicate with teachers on topics that I considered important. Not all teachers read The TESS, of course, but rather more do than read the "heavy"

academic journals for which I also write.

I have come to regard it as a great privilege to have regular access to a forum which many professionals turn to in order to keep abreast of developments, especially since I have always had a completely free hand over the subjects I choose and the views I express.

The second reason was rather more selfish. I thought it might be beneficial to my writing technique. I knew I would have to cultivate a more direct, punchier style than the conventions of academic writing normally allow. One of the first things I learned was that size matters. To begin with, I was given a limit of 600 words. The discipline of writing to a specified length forces you to be clear about what you are saying and to focus on two or three key points.

Following the changes to the format of The TESS last November, my word limit was reduced to 570. I did think of throwing a tantrum but concluded that would be unwise as the editor might dispense with my services.

I am sometimes asked where I get the ideas for my columns. The sources are varied - a comment by a colleague, a question from a student, something I have read (not necessarily about education), an experience that has provoked a strong reaction, whether positive or negative. And like most people who have worked in education for a long time, I have a ready supply of hobby horses to ride and obsessions to draw on. Regular readers will be familiar with my deep respect for the leadership class in Scottish education.

The process of writing generally follows a similar pattern. An idea begins to form, I let it "simmer" for a week or so, sometimes jotting down a few notes, then I write a first draft quite quickly (usually on a Sunday morning). I have benefited greatly from the advice of a former colleague who has cast an eye over many articles before I do the final editing. This has often forced me to think more deeply about the argument I was advancing and, on a number of occasions, has stopped me from making ill-judged statements.

With regard to reactions, I get quite a few informal comments, especially about the lighter pieces which contain a touch of humour. There have occasionally been letters taking issue with what I have written, which I welcome, and a few articles penned in response, but so far I have not received anything anonymous or abusive. Now there's a challenge to the readership.

I am conscious that this is rather a self-indulgent piece, but I promise to get back on track next time. Please be charitable and put it down to the nostalgic tendencies of the elderly.

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