It takes more than military precision to engage pupils

28th May 2010 at 01:00
Ex-armoured vehicle commander David Terron finds out as he tackles unchartered territory

David Terron's first taste of teaching came as a serving soldier in the Falklands, he says.

"It was 1982 and we'd been sent down to take West Falkland. But we ended up as garrison troops, clearing minefields. The Argies had thrown all the teachers out and many didn't come back, so my boss said: `You've got A- levels - you can be a teacher.'

"We had five kids in a little schoolroom, but it had been trashed. So I was writing to people like BP who were sending me posters and small samples of crude oil. I was teaching English, maths, history, geography, science. I really enjoyed it."

When Mr Terron left the army 20 years later, after spells in other troublespots such as the Middle East and Northern Ireland, he embarked on a degree at Stirling University, with stacks of enthusiasm and a lasting legacy of service. "I'm 25 per cent lame and 55 per cent deaf," he says.

Three years after graduation, the soldier-teacher transition complete, Mr Terron has established himself in the English department at Elgin Academy - not just with pupils and colleagues, but even with Daisy, the lady who serves the staffroom teas. "He's a real gentleman, and he knows about everything that's going on in the world," she says.

The change did take some time to adapt to, Mr Terron admits, and hearing loss was the least of his worries. "I've got this portable loop system with two digital hearing aids and a microphone. It only takes 10 minutes in the morning to get cyborg teacher up and running.

"It didn't affect my decision to become a teacher because I got bags of support from Stirling University. Occasionally, it can be tricky in the classroom. Sometimes I speak too quietly for them. If I'm talking to someone here, I won't necessarily pick up somebody over there. But I brief new classes, tell them I'm deaf, not daft, and explain the technology. They accept it. In fact, they look after me."

A bigger challenge was the culture change from services to schools, he says. "I was used to saying `Jump!' and the soldier saying, `How high?' It took time, and support from Stirling and the principal teacher at Grangemouth High, before I realised that you can tell kids and you can ask them, but you also have to talk to them. You have to explain."

One aspect of life in the military helped him adjust to that kind of relationship, he says. "If the officer says: `Take that hill,' you take it as a team. So I'm more used to working in teams than most teachers. I went into my first placement thinking it was my classroom and they would do what they were told. But it's not my classroom. It's our classroom."

As if to illustrate the point, a succession of youngsters has been popping in, leaving bags, picking up stuff, having relaxed chats with Mr Terron. But it is now time for a lesson with the senior pupils, who are studying a shocking story by Val McDermid called The Writing on the Wall.

A brief PowerPoint presentation from Mr Terron, reviewing the critical techniques to be used, is followed by class discussion and analysis aimed at separating facts from feelings: "I thought it was obvious what had happened," says Katie Stewart, S5. "But he's got me thinking. I'm not sure now.

"Mr Terron gets us to discuss things and find out what we think. He gets us talking as a group, which is good because you hear lots of viewpoints."

As a teacher, Mr Terron is a good listener, says Aidan Read, S6. "He takes your viewpoint and builds it up. I also like how he gets us to publish our work on the web. Then there's the film-clips he shows us, which really let you see the background to a story."

Convinced of the benefits of ICT in education, and the need for teachers to adapt to young people as they are, not how we would like them to be, Mr Terron brings a collection of his own hardware - video and cameras, tablet PC, recording equipment - into his classroom.

"Don't hand it in; publish it," he encourages his pupils, and takes his own advice by writing an insightful blog on learning and teaching, a feature of which is past posts collected into categories, such as CPD, Glow, Curriculum for Excellence.

Although bringing a wealth of experience to teaching, Mr Terron is learning all the time, he says, and has no plans to retire. "As long as it's enjoyable, I'll keep doing it.

"There is one legacy of the military I haven't mentioned. When I applied for this job, they asked for my qualifications and I sent them a whole list. The one that got me a point on the pay-scale wasn't in ICT or teaching."

He laughs. "It was armoured vehicle commander."

- David Terron's blog: http:x9 portfolios.co.ukwpmudatreflective

Terron's tech tips

? Twitter. "Support, guidance, advice, social activity and resources. Great personal learning network."

? Wikispaces. "Easy and quick for students, who add resources, essays examples, background material for texts."

? Wordpress. "Multiuser blogs for ePortfolios or classroom resources. Steep learning curve but easier than most blogging packages."

? Google Docs. "Forms, documents, spreadsheets, surveys for students and staff to share. Can be used for collaborative editing - all working on one document at the same time."

? Prezi. "Creates visually stimulating presentations for use online or downloaded for classrooms. Links to videos and pics. Great fun for students."

scoted@tes.co.uk.

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