Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's school in Oxfordshire
Is it time to think more positively about the growth of internet sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo? We know these youthful, loose-cannon love-children of Friends Reunited have given many young learners a chance to be as rude as they like, in a public place, about those who tried so hard to help them at school. But if we ignore the miserable minority (or better, report them so that such messages are hastily removed) these sites are surely a force for good. Most postings about teachers are warm and appreciative, potentially doing much to enhance the profession's self-esteem and sense of job satisfaction.
"You must be kidding!" I hear some say. Well, go search the sites. You'll find much more commonly than the odd piece of ignorant bile thousands of reflective former pupils expressing many glowing tributes to their former teachers. Consider, for instance, the not unusual "appreciation" page that I randomly chanced upon within Facebook, about one particular teacher: "He deserves all the praise and recognition that is owed to him for his consistent contribution to hundreds of people's lives"... "How many teachers do you hear trying to get us more mischievous students to go chill with him at a monastery for a couple of days"... "Even with a drop-out like me, he supported me and let me follow the career I wanted" ... "I have a video of him dancing to 'I Like the Way You Move' if anyone wants it!"
These sites have made it easier than ever before for young adults to say warm and encouraging things about their former teachers. They are thoughts that usually went unsaid when they left school maybe two, five or 10 years earlier, when they did not always have the right moment or maturity to say them. Before the rise of these sites, such feelings remained unsaid and generations of good or great teachers never learnt of the depth of gratitude and admiration that was out there.
Teachers will be encouraged, too, to find a rare place where they are still recognised for qualities other than their contextual value-added exam pass rates. They are instead celebrated more often for their encouragement, enthusiasm, inspiration, originality, humour, patience, guidance, for their life-changing school trips and their memorable lessons though, yes, someone does need to advise these well-intentioned contributors to ease up on the now hopelessly devalued accolade "legend".
Several years ago, a wonderful teaching colleague of mine died suddenly of a heart attack. I wish he could have read every one of the comments written by his former pupils in the book of condolence. It was a moving tribute, but too late for him to know what they all thought of him. Had he still been teaching today, there would be a Facebook Appreciation Society for him and he could have gained more of a feel for the lasting impact he had made on people. Yes, he too would have been a "legend" many times over, but this time rightly so.