2 scenarios...

which is the motivating environment?
which is the disenchanting one?

(from a TES piece I wrote in 1998)

It certainly helps if we have / share a vision of where we are going with all this. I offer these two possible futures - no as choices, but to provoke a debate in staffrooms about just what future we are trying to build for ourselves as well as for our students.

It's 2010. Rachel is a recently qualified teacher at HighTech High (motto "We aim high to hit our targets").

Rachel needed to be highly capable at using a computer in her specialist subject, Geography, at university and was able to do some highly original and complex meteorological modelling as part of her PGCE project. None of this though has proved to be particularly useful in her teaching career where vast suites of networked computers are dominantly delivering a tightly tested curriculum, from a vast commercial question bank, to individual students. With each child's performance and aggregate scores linked to their homes Rachel's main need for expertise is as both a technician keeping the teaching machines running and as a communicator. Most days she fends off disappointed parents ("but he is so confident at Scouts and swimming club, it's as though this printout is for another boy...") and parents who object to the American curriculum run on the network ("I'm sorry Mrs Vijage it's part of the deal we bought into with our local provider, the software is so much cheaper and they all love Robin William's voices...").

Like her partner, who spends most of his day analysing the diagnostic information from an engine analysis computer at a car dealership, Rachel's skill is in looking at the tables of moving aggregates and intervening by prescribing remedial before school courses. Rachel already has a string of certificates (many already out of date of course) testifying to her capability as a network engineer, and as a data diagnostician and she represents a considerable investment by her employers but her real aim is to move into a more creative job. "Teaching can be satisfying" Rachel reflects, "Sometimes out shopping I meet children that I manage and I can remember all their numbers, but it's not the career I expected it to be somehow; I hope to move on up to a post with my partner at the garage".

It's 2010. Hilary is a returning teacher, attracted back by the ethos of tiny Apollo Community School, just down the road from where she lives.

As a returning teacher Hilary had no experience of either the few big workstations scattered around the school corridors, nor of the huge variety of cheap and cheerful Java based tablets that most children had in their backpacks. On the other hand she can see that the children are confident and capable with actually making their technology work, but what they need is her help and advice with their learning.

Hilary's original expertise was in English, with a particular soft spot for Metaphysical Poetry. She could see immediately that whilst the product of creative writing hadn't changed much, the processes involved certainly had and Hilary immediately needed help exploring some of them before offering formative advice. She was cautious about the new "Finessing" function on their server's word processor for example and had already volunteered to be part of a small project evaluating the impact on her children's writing.

So much to do, so many paths to explore, the children constantly surprising everyone with new capabilities. Hilary takes her shared role as action researcher seriously and has developed a special relationship with many of the families around the school. Thanks to a vigorous and well populated community of fellow English specialists in a virtual corner of the Internet she is also able to both contribute to and learn from the rapidly evolving subject area that she loves. Her professional development is informed by colleagues all round the world. As a teacher returner, Hilary might not recognise much of the current broad definition of literacy but learning hasn't changed much and she still loves every exhausting minute of making it happen.

Does it all fit into such a hectic week? "Ah", says Hilary, "Had we but world enough and time...".

© Stephen Heppell, Ultralab 1998