from blackboards to computer screens

Black, white or interactive board? Our Education Lead Andy Plant may have moved with the times, but the old blackboard is still missed.

5 March 2021

When first starting life as a primary school teacher in 1991 the famous blackboard was still the centre of attention in most classrooms. In my first room there was the famous three boarded revolving one with one piece being plain, one having lines and the last one squares – a board for every lesson. The date in the top left corner was my first job every morning and I’d write down all of the day’s lessons so that the children would enter school knowing exactly what they would be doing that day. There were lots of various coloured chalks which would be used to create a multitude of paragraphs, bar charts, drawings etc. throughout the day. At the bottom of the board was a little wooden shelf on which would be placed the board rubber, a big ruler and the board compass, the latter being a device I never quite got the hang of. When the kids had gone home other teachers would often hear little cries of anguish as I prepared for the next morning’s lesson trying to use a compass that would always slip just as I got to the end of drawing the circle.

My trousers always seemed to be covered in chalk marks where my fingers had brushed against them. I had grown up with the blackboard in classrooms and was very proud that I was now the holder of the chalk!

Of course, the kids took great delight in doing their own etchings during a wet playtime. I’d often return from the staffroom to the words, ‘Billy was ere’ or something similar and we’d spend the first five minutes of the next lesson discussing spellings. The more artistic amongst the students would attempt a drawing of a house with its square windows and smoke coming out of the chimney and a fenced garden at the front – they were year 4 by the way.

I moved classes a few times over the next ten years but the blackboard remained pride of place in each room. I did hear that other schools had changed to something called a whiteboard with their squeaky pens and shiny surfaces but there was something beautiful and traditional about our boards.

Then, of course, progress took over and my beloved blackboard was replaced with the white imposter, it’s selection of pens of various colours and nibs. It was easy to wipe, unless you accidently used a permanent marker which I once did by accident, it left no dust and many teachers preferred it … but not me! It felt like a piece of schooling importance had disappeared.

It was quite good for being the monitor for the ‘overhead projector’ though. We all took great delight in printing designs and documents onto OHP sheets and then showing them to the students. This worked quite well most of the time although I do remember the first day of one of our dreaded Ofsted inspections when I’d planned a great maths lesson, or so I thought, which involved the OHP. The kids were all settled awaiting an inspiring lesson starter, I gave them a few minutes of introduction then referred them to the slide which was about to go onto the OHP. I’d tested it earlier, nothing could go wrong. A glance at the inspector was met with a smile, the lesson was going to plan. I turned on the OHP …. and the bulb blew! I opened it up to do a quick twenty second bulb change … and there was no spare! A quick request for a sensible child to go to the office to fetch a spare bulb ensued and five minutes later everything was fine again. What an awkward five minutes that was as I had to chat away to the kids about the point of the lesson whilst avoiding any eye contact with the inspector. Forty minutes later the lesson was over and the inspector and I had a little giggle about the incident. This wouldn’t have happened with a blackboard! They never let me down.

At the start of the next millennium as computers were becoming the mainstay of classrooms, I moved elsewhere and managed to avoid the development of classroom technology for the next ten years. Upon my return to the modern classroom I was greeted by a very efficient teaching assistant who thought that it was rather funny that I’d never used an interactive whiteboard before. A board which linked to a computer. You could write on it, play interactive games on it and an array of other things. If ever I got stuck with its workings, one of the eight year olds in my class would gladly come and help me whilst the other twenty-nine sniggered politely. Had I really become so out of touch with the modern world? The answer was yes!

Over the following months and years, I convinced myself that the use of computer technology was a marvellous learning tool, especially the internet. As a Head Teacher I commanded the purse strings and took the school forwards with an array of technology – interactive screens, laptops and the like. We could easily access up to date and relevant information, diagrams, graphs and virtually anything else required. It was an interactive learning tool which played videos and music … although a problem with the WIFI often led to frustrated teachers who would think nothing of airing their views during the next break. Of course, by this stage the children had never known anything else. Whilst those of us of a certain age were still getting used to the changes in technology, to them it was just ‘cool.’ They adapted to the changes with excitement and glee whilst I would often think of the bygone years when it all seemed a lot simpler.

These days my role is very different to that of the teaching years. I now use thirty years of experience to help others in the field of education. Carers, social workers and anyone else who would like some support. I sit in front of a computer screen for virtually the whole of my working day liaising with people from all over the country in an efficient and cost effective way, occasionally going into schools to find that many lessons are taught from an interactive board or via a computer of some description. Teachers under forty have never known it to be any different.

Have I moved with the times? Is my grasp of technology good enough for the world of 2021? Sort of.

But I still miss the blackboard!

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