The dark side of the whiteboard - Inspiration in short supply

15th October 2010 at 01:00

This week my school introduced a new initiative: teaching by telepathy. It is a radical development occasioned by the meltdown of the school photocopier, the collapse of the intranet and the fact that nobody seems to give a shit. With no resources to support us, we are now disseminating key information through a series of rapid eye movements and a board marker with a blunt nib. It is fine if you are a geographer, but not so good if your lessons rely on a web-based digital anthology.

The exam board AQA is to be congratulated for joining the school in this pioneering venture. And it is doing it with some gusto. Despite its website's claim that "supporting teachers is fundamental to effective teaching" it seems to have forgotten to pass this on to its staff.

My particular bugbear is that the board is not yet offering any exemplar essays to support the tricky new AS unit on aspects of narrative that it introduced way back in 2008. While you might expect Assessment for Learning to founder in a school in special measures where the teachers are more interested in not being stabbed than in setting two stars and a wish, you might have hoped that the UK's largest exam board would have got its act together. But maybe accountability only applies to teachers.

I have struggled with this unit, so I rang the board for help. I was told there is nothing available. Despite having set four examinations on this unit, AQA has yet to supply anything to support schools. I was offered one glimmer of hope. If I could come up with #163;525 it could send out a school support officer to pop in for a morning session. But no more than 10 teachers and, I suspect, no exemplar materials.

Our senior management team is backing this "teaching with no resources" initiative with a fanfare of morale-boosting assemblies celebrating the indomitable human spirit.

In reality, the SMT has clicked that we are unlikely to quibble over a shortage of paper clips after watching the aftermath of the Pakistan floods. These assemblies are the spiritual equivalent of a colonic irrigation, often featuring a three-minute clip of Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen Prejean and someone with a missing limb or one eye.

The inspirational speaker Nick Vujicic gets a regular slot in these assemblies. Born in Brisbane, with neither arms nor legs, he represents triumph over adversity. His film Are You Going to Finish Strong? is unequivocally cathartic. Watching him struggle to heave himself off the ground prompts an instant purging of any self-pity. It is also a clever way of ensuring whole-school compliance with whatever cutbacks your head has been aching to introduce.

I checked out Vujicic's "Life Without Limbs" website. It is full of inspirational soundbites and also offers you the opportunity to purchase from a range of life-affirming T-shirts and jewellery. His mission statement, "From no limbs to no limits" rings true. Perhaps the principal should amend ours to read, "From no resources to no passes". Wonder if it is worth printing the T-shirts?

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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