Dear Ted

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Ted Wragg's untimely death last month robbed teachers of a great ally, a witty and articulate spokesman and a staunch defender of the profession.

Here we print the first of two letters to him from people whose lives he affected

'You had the knack of voicing what was in our heads, just more eloquently.

I told The TES to keep my stuff well away from yours. Not on the same page, please. Can't compete'

Dear Ted

Do you know why you sometimes got on my nerves? Because I could never disagree with you. When I read the stuff I have written myself I usually think it is wrong. But what you wrote was always so bloody reasonable.

That's the point. You knew that the lunatics were taking over the asylum, but you wouldn't let them do it without a fight. You manned the barricades.

Waving the flag. Calling the barbarians names. It's only your words that I knew. But they made you a friend.

So what words can I use when I think about you? Principled? Consistent? Committed? The most important word has to be normal. And doesn't that tell us something? That in the mad world in which we teach we came to respect the Normal Professor. Never mind the mad professor set on world domination, with an evil plan and a sense of destiny. You left that to others. Our professor never forgot what matters: that teachers don't only meet targets, they change lives. Trust them, you said. Let them do it.

That is why so many of us read you. To be reminded of important things, to give us the confidence to question the absurdities. Another word. Grateful.

We are, quite naturally, grateful for what you did. It was your mission to keep an entire profession sane. But we mustn't forget your own debt of gratitude to successive governments. They provided you with a seam of material full of rich and comic possibilities. I suppose you would rather have had no compelling reason to write. But you were cursed to live in interesting times, in a world gone mad. You couldn't keep your mouth shut.

Tony Zoffis? So much material. How did you describe government policy last month ("New Labour, Old Policies", The TES, October 28)? Surreal. Bizarre.

And why? Because Tony wants schools to opt out of local authority control.

Suddenly it's 1988 all over again.

No more city technology colleges. Instead we'll have city academies. Posh schools to be excused the tiresome details of the national curriculum; social and family dysfunction solved at a stroke. You were right. A world of fantastical castles built upon clouds. Does that mean you were provocative? I suppose so. But let's not forget, you were always a good Sheffield boy, never missing a chance to question authority. What was important to you was building for the future through education, not building a world on weasel words.

So how about honest? Or uncompromising? You never minced your words. We could all share your frustration with the "spinelessness and hypocrisy of many MPs". Because you knew what was important: the classroom and that unique, immeasurable relationship between teacher and pupil.

And here is another word. Sensible. In the end that is why we read your work. You had the knack of voicing what was in our heads, just more eloquently. You and I had a lot in common. You didn't know that, did you? We went to the same primary school in Sheffield. We share the same birthday. I taught for a while in Leicester, just as you did. But I want you to know that I wasn't stalking you. Far from it. In fact I told The TES to keep my stuff well away from yours. Not on the same page, please. Can't compete.

Has anyone ever had their work stuck on staffroom noticeboards as often as you? I used to direct young teachers and old sweats to it. There was always something to take from it.

In one of your last Dear Ted columns you talked about a retired teacher's loss of purpose. You knew what teachers felt like. You understood. A man of principle; a believer. The man we all wanted to inspect Ofsted. But only, of course, after the suited ones had taught all morning, done dinner duty and taken an abusive phone call from Mrs Evans. Because even though we didn't know you, we all felt that you were one of us. We never met. Now that opportunity has been snatched from me. If we had met, I don't think I would have known what to say. But now you've gone I think I do know.


Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed school in Swansea. Next week: Dennis Richards, headteacher and Ted's former pupil

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