How I started teaching ICT

Full Circle: How I started teaching ICT

Image by Terry Freedman via Flickr

Sometimes people ask me how I made the transition from teaching Economics to teaching ICT. In case you're interested, here's (part of) the story.

In 1986 I was working as what was called a Permanent Unattached teacher in London. Basically, it was supply teaching with a difference. In fact, with two differences. Firstly, it was for at least one term at a time in a particular school, to cover long-term absence. Secondly, it was (in theory, at least), subject-specific. In other words, I was covering lessons in my own subject specialisms.

Although I loved teaching Economics, I was starting to have doubts as to future job prospects in that field. It seemed to me that fewer and fewer schools were offering it as an option, and more and more schools were looking at vocational and business studies courses. I'm not sure if the then government's half-baked notion of teaching economic literacy across the curriculum was a help or a hindrance in the prognosis for Economics. (It's interesting to me, as an aside, how Economics has suddenly become very popular in the mainstream.)

The school I was in at the time was quite forward thinking. It had a suite of computers in the business studies department, which taught word processing. A senior teacher used a computer spreadsheet for helping him work out the timetable.

Now, I had used computers in one form or another since starting my teaching career, but I had used them as a means of enhancing my lessons in Economics (a topic for another article), not as a tool in their own right. Thus I didn't know how to use a word processor or a spreadsheet.

(The school also had a computer club for female staff to learn how to do computer programming. In an appalling act of sexism I was not allowed to join that group. That, too, is a subject for another article.)

You have to bear in mind that in those days the computer programs were not WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). To make a word bold you had to put a control code before and after it. To centre a paragraph or a heading you had to put a code in the margin. It wasn't exactly intuitive, and you could never be completely sure you'd got it right until you'd printed it off.

The Head of Business Studies, Jane, taught me how to word process. Tony, the Senior Teacher, taught me how to use the spreadsheet. Thanks to them, I learnt enough about using the software to talk my way into my next job, Head of Business Studies and Information Technology.

Eleven years later I was working as an ICT advisor in the same borough. One day, my boss asked me to go down to the school where I'd cut my teeth on word processing and spreadsheets. Apparently, the Deputy Headteacher was trying to devise a spreadsheet that would enable him to analyse and correlate examination results with attendance records and that sort of thing.

I made an appointment through the school secretary, and turned up the next morning. I was shown into the Deputy Head's office. He had his back to me while he desperately tried to clear some papers so I could sit down.

"It's very good of you to come at such short notice, Terry", he said. "Can I get you a cup of tea?"

He turned round to face me and we shook hands.

"Good morning, Tony", I said.