Hang Ups

5th September 1997 at 01:00
Before being sent on her first teaching practice, a student should be warned about the motley collection of undesirable types and ne'er-do-wells that she will inevitably meet. And it isn't only the staff who will cause her problems. Pupils, too, can be difficult.

Children want to do things their way, but unfortunately there will be as many different ways as there are pupils in the class. The student teacher, in her innocence, will want to rise to the challenge, and attempt to cater for each child's individual needs. This, of course, is a recipe for disaster. She would be far better advised to adopt the showbiz approach to classroom management - and to model her teaching style on someone like Shirley Bassey.

No two members of Ms Bassey's audience are the same but, none the less, she feels under no obligation to build an element of differentiation into her act, or to re-arrange the seating so that the members are grouped by ability. She doesn't wear sensible shoes so that she can race around the auditorium catering alternately for the particular needs of the tone deaf, the music professors, the broken-hearted or the slightly plastered. Instead, she behaves as if the audience is a single - albeit many-headed - beast. All ticket holders are treated to the same act - whether that's what's best for them or not.

Wily teachers are similarly cavalier. They know that they have neither the time nor the mental stamina to treat pupils as individuals. But how can the student teacher - her giddy head brimful with good intentions - be convinced of this?

As is so often the case nowadays, new technology offers the answer. It's true that a humble PC can't simulate the trials and tribulations of a teacher's day. But there is something better - the Tamagotchi.

If you don't know what a Tamagotchi is, you obviously haven't been on our planet for the past few months. It looks like a particularly naff digital watch, but is home to a virtual pet - a match-stick bird that struts and frets around the tiny screen.

It doesn't actually do anything to justify the Pounds 10 price-tag, but you are expected to take full responsibility for its well-being. By poking buttons, you feed it, chastise it, clean up its mess, and keep it amused. If you don't tend to its every need, it sulks, grows obstreperous and makes an irritating squeaking sound. In fact, it is remarkably similar to the average school pupil.

Most conscientous owners find it nigh on impossible to cope with the constant demands of one Tamagotchi. But, as preparation for her chosen profession, the student teacher should be expected to take charge of at least 30.

As she rushes from one of her noisy charges to the next, frenetically pressing buttons, she should be asked to undertake a number of additional tasks: fill in an assortment of Department for Education and Employment and local authority forms; tick a selection of boxes; make suggestions for the school's five-year development plan; collect the school fund; design the set for the next school production; Blu-tac wall displays; show an interest in the deputy head's holiday snaps; help plan a syllabus that integrates IT into all facets of the curriculum; plan an outing to Alton Towers; cover for absent colleagues; set end-of-term exams; write reports - and do a spot of teaching.

It will not take too long for the student to appreciate that, under such pressure, it's not possible to give each Tamagotchi the TLC it deserves. She will soon see the wisdom of arranging them into neat rows and issuing a warning that the next one that squeaks will have its battery removed. It is unlikely that she will be able to teach them much. She could, however, follow Ms Bassey's example and wow them with a show-stopping ballad. "My Way" might be apposite.


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