Man versus machine

5th December 2014 at 00:00

Tonight my route home from school is via gridlock highway. I haven't moved in 20 minutes and I have no idea why. The local radio station ignores my latest plea for a traffic update in favour of playing a Chris Rea song. All in all, it has not been a good day.

This morning I covered the class of a junior colleague. Filled with the optimism of youth, she left all her planning and resources on her computer. At the tap of an interactive whiteboard pen, I could in theory access the flipcharts, web pages and video links required to smooth my passage through the teaching day. But she didn't realise that when I was her age, a "windows environment" meant my dad's greenhouse.

For those of us who misspent our youth without the help of mobile phones or tablet computers, getting to grips with the ever-changing landscape of technology is like learning a foreign language from scratch. We are not native speakers. Everything has to be translated and our fumbling efforts only make people laugh.

In a drawer in our utility room is my old slide rule. My wife wants to know why I don't get rid of it. "For the same reason we keep candles," I reply. "You never know when disaster will strike and send us hurtling back to the Stone Age."

Unfortunately, it struck at 9.37am today. That's when the PowerPoint presentation, with hyperlinks to the support materials that would help the students to recognise equivalent fractions, mysteriously disappeared into the virtual ether.

It shouldn't have been a problem. When I first became a teacher it was compulsory to scribble your entire week's planning on the back of a fag packet. When did I need a flipchart to teach fractions? When did I require an interactive program to demonstrate how to write an explanation? When was a video clip needed to put across the horror of factory life for children in Victorian Britain?

When you are in a technological hole, the saying goes, stop clicking. But for medical reasons (my wife has diagnosed me with Stubborn Old Man Syndrome), I couldn't. If a teacher who was barely a foetus when Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web can deliver lessons at the click of a mouse, so can I.

But it turns out that I can't. Not even with the conflicting advice of a class of eight-year-olds was I able to wake from today's computer-generated nightmare. When I left school at the end of the day, it was with feelings of profound frustration - which my drive home is doing absolutely nothing to alleviate.

Finally, a radio announcer interrupts the programme to warn us that a broken-down lorry is causing long delays on some city centre routes. How long will the delays last? He doesn't say. Meanwhile, it's back to Chris Rea telling me what I already know. "This ain't no technological breakdown. Oh no, this is the road to hell."

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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