Computer dating with a difference

25th January 2008 at 00:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole and so to Bett, the annual teachers' technology show. I receive a phone message from a colleague en route: "My train is full of teachers. May kill one soon if they don't shut up." My own train is eerily quiet.

I toy with the idea of complaining loudly into my phone about how I was marking until 10 o'clock last night. If the other passengers are all teachers, within seconds we will be in a moaning bidding war ("I was up until 3am" and "I had to sell my children to buy more red pens" ... ).

If you have never been before, Bett can be an overwhelming experience. Thousands of teachers, hundreds of stalls, and seminars. Teaching and ICT brought together in one big love-fest.

As I have moved further away from class teaching and into ICT, Mrs Walpole has constantly encouraged me. At last I understand why. There is no chance of extra-marital affairs with such a CV. ("That's right, Baby, I'm a Sagittarius and I'm into computers and primary school teaching. No, wait! Come back!")

It may be bigger and better but some things never change, including the fixed grins of the staff on the Apple stand as the 1,000th teacher asks them where they pick up their free Macs.

I watch a bit of a seminar on Future Schools but the computer shuts down mid-presentation. "I don't know what's going on," says the poor soul. Doesn't she know that all computers have a sensor that crashes your PC at vital moments. Everyone boasts about virtual learning, but I'd settle for a computer that doesn't lock up every time a lesson is observed.

One stall boasts it has gone paperless, but within minutes I see someone taking down a head's details with a pen.

There is something a bit disturbing about this link between commerce and education. Teachers are clearly in awe of people who work in IT. The salesmen clearly see the budget holders as lambs to the slaughter. When I stop to talk to one individual, he makes the astonishing assertion that his product is "whatever you want, whatever you're looking for, you've just found it!" I am too polite to ask if it can offer me a sense of inner peace in a godless consumer society.

He concludes our brief chat by aggressively swiping my bar-coded badge and then invading my personal space as he rasps in a sinister voice that he'll "put me down as a very strong lead". I move on and spend the weekend frightened that he might turn up on my doorstep and assault me with his palm pilot.

I walk around with other teachers scooping up freebies, looking interested in wireless routers while pilfering sweets. The clear winner of this year's free "toot" (Alan Sugar) is an orange with the BBC logo branded on to the skin, a mystifying piece of promotion that trumps my previous favourite of "advanced skills teachers' pencils". Sadly there is still no official Ofsted inspectorate dartboard available. Maybe next year.

More from Henry in a fortnight.

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