Falling into a black hole

9th February 2001 at 00:00
Just suddenly, the world has passed me by. Like a quill pen manufacturer, or a sealing wax producer, I feel that somehow, dramatically, my abilities and interests are being left behind in conversational terms. I'm not upset by the sudden change of linguistic fashion - if everything's "cheesy" or "cool", then that's fine by me, and the vagaries of pupils' fashion from plenty hair to dyed hair to no hair have never really exercised me.

Similarly, varying strata of adolescent music from techno rave to Bob the Builder left no lasting impact, nor disturbed my equilibrium. Were the Beatles not, in our day, equally pilloried yet pupils today look on them with detached benevolence. One of my third year even brought her Dad their greatest hits CD for Christmas.

Partly, this dislocation with the present is focused on the day to day activities in school. At the start of my tentative toehold into teaching, we read much more than we read now. Pupils were still assessed and boxes ticked, but the number of novels, plays, short stories and poems covered was vastly greater.

Hours spent listening to my fourth year talking about work experience, interminable redrafting of "finished" pieces, pursuit of illusory targets (always quantitative never qualitative) - the effect is to create a sense of detacment from any meaningful achievement.

The chief executive of UCAS, the universities admissions service, recently trumpeted that 35 per cent of applications were now being electronically submitted. With interest whetted I phoned UCAS to see how this way ahead could be accessed. Pay pound;900 to have in-service in your school, or attend your nearest centre (Middlesborough) at a cheaper rate was the given reply.

Mindful of recent Scottish experience with sending material electronically into an educational black hole, I dared to suggest in a letter that preparations in Scottish schools are less far advanced. Apparently the ubiquitous Apple is not the preferred UCAS machine.

Further communication suggested a conference in the early summer when all problems could be overcome. I'm still sceptical, but then my fears about the Scottish Qualifications Authority have already been allayed. They sent our school co-ordinator a Christmas card that arrived in December - she wasn't expecting it until February.

Perhaps there's a retirement home for disaffected teachers where they sit and pass text messages to each other on confiscated mobile phones, with as much chalk as they can eat, comfortable in their reminiscences about books and well-behaved pupils. McCrone Hall they could call it.


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