We're all techies in Facebook age

The wisdom of Henry Walpole

The wisdom of Henry Walpole

June finds us slap-bang in the middle of report season, and I'm willing to lay a sizeable bet that at least one member of your staff has a computer-related freak-out. In the morning, they'll be smugly announcing to the whole staffroom, "Well, I've nearly finished my reports." But by that same afternoon, they'll be found in tears trying to cram their bleeding hand into a CD drive ("My work is in there! Give it back, you bastard!")

We teachers have a love-hate relationship with computers, but it wasn't so long ago that they played no part in our lives at all. Like Big Brother and yogurts that "aid digestive transit", they belonged in the future. When I first started teaching, the only computer access I had in school was a BBC computer shared between two classes. Every half term, it was wheeled into the parallel classroom, where we would briefly take off the dust cover and explain to pupils that it was a computer. Once the laughter had died down, we'd put the cover back on and leave it there until the next changeover.

Then Labour came to power. Suddenly there was lots of money for computers, and schools began to build computer rooms. Initially, there was no training, so the main outcome was that modern computers sat collecting dust instead of the old ones.

The solution was typically grand: the New Opportunities Fund (Nof, dubbed Naff by most heads) ICT training. I was a part of it and it was great fun. Various big technology consultancies photocopied some seemingly random documents about computers and put them into plush folders. As an advisory teacher, I then whizzed around the county to every school and gave them piles of folders and a few branded pens and bags. I was then asked to return three months later to find out "how it was going". Some heads would pretend never to have seen me before; others invited me to grand folder-burning ceremonies. More than pound;100 million was wasted. If it makes you feel any better, a large proportion of that was my inflated petrol expenses (that's a joke, in case any local authority auditors are reading).

As is often the case with new technology, computer use only really took off as teachers began to see how it could make their lives easier. As soon as primary school teachers found they could share ideas through garishly designed websites and their beloved Comic Sans font, skill levels within schools began to climb.

Then came wireless networks, which allowed us to work anywhere in school. This meant you could take your laptop out on the school field for preparation and assessment time. So when it crashed, your prolific swearing could no longer be heard by the pupils indoors.

Now, of course, for newer teachers, life without computers is unthinkable. Heads who want to monitor their staff are probably better off checking Facebook then undertaking lesson observations - just so long as they don't mind reading about how "Samantha is chilling out right now", when they know it's Year 3's literacy lesson.

More from Henry in a fortnight.

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