“Well, I suppose you could type your reports on the computer…” Mr OldHeadteacher hesitates. I just wouldn’t want them to lose the personal touch.”
They won’t. I promise they won’t. They’ll be ever so personal, really. And faster, so much faster. Because I can type faster than I write. And I won’t mac a slip up in mi spilling. Computers cheque your spilling.
So I was allowed to do my reports on the computer. At that time, this meant two sides of A4 per child. The front had sections for the three Rs and Science; the back had everything else plus a section for “Personal and Social”. They took about an hour per child to write; longer for the tricky children when you had to think of positive ways of saying they were an idle cove who was a sandwich short of a picnic. And, of course, the reports had to be perfect so if you made a slip of the pen, the whole darn thing would have to be written again.
I embarked on reports that year with the hope that, for once, June would mean sunshine and roses instead of evenings and weekends burning the midnight. Moreover, I had a secret weapon: Find and Replace. I tried it out with David and Chris, who were much on a par, academically.
Mr OldHeadteacher returned my reports with bemusement. Had I really meant that we were studying stories from ‘Davidtianity’ in R.E.?
As it turned out, reports still took as long when we’d all migrated to using the computer: because it was possible to fit more in the space. So we wrote more. Instead of saving time, it turns out that all too often the possibilities offered by technology simply raise the expectations.
As I write this, my teacher friends are ploughing through reports which are now at least four pages long. These include incorporating the children’s own comments on each subject, which were typed in school and have to be pasted into each individual report. The comments are delightful (“Well the thing is – and I’ve seen it with my own eyes – is that there are some people in this class and they’re falling in love and, well, it makes me feel sick!!”). But it all takes time, so much time…
It seems to me that the possibilities offered by technology are so immense that it is scarily easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Just because something can be done, doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be done.
I’m not against technology, of course I’m not. The cat, perched right now on the coffee table between my iPad, iPod, smartphone and Kindle, is looking at me with accusatory eyes. You hypocrite, she is thinking. Or perhaps she is just hoping I’m going to attach a mouse to this laptop.
But I’m feeling particularly Luddite at the moment, having spent most of the weekend wrestling with an online application form to renew a Disabled Parking Permit on behalf of Mrs Jones.
Mrs Jones is in her mid-eighties. She’s widowed and has also lost both her children, one of whom was a close friend of mine. She has all sorts of health problems and can’t walk unsupported but with a frame she can totter short distances. Two or three times a week, she drives the hundred yards or so down her road to Marks, where she parks in the disabled bay, totters into the Food Hall and runs riot in the ready meals. Figuratively speaking.
Her Blue Badge being up for renewal next month, she phoned the council to ask for a form. It’s all online now, she was told. No more forms.
“But I don’t have a computer!” she cried.
“You’ll have to get someone to help you,” came the reply. “No more forms.”
I collect Mrs Jones, bring her to my house and we start the application. Page One goes well: I tick to say that I am completing it on her behalf. She knows her name, address and birthday. I next through to Page Two. They want to know her National Insurance Number. She says she thinks it has a ‘y’ in it.
I try and look ahead in the form, to see what other information might be needed while we are collecting her NI number. But it won’t show me Page Three until I have sent Page Two. And I can’t send Page Two until we have her NI number.
We drive over and collect the number, bring it back to my house, log on. We send Page Two and find that Page Three needs details from her driver’s licence. Which is in her other handbag.
Mrs Jones completed this form perfectly well last time, when she was able to work through a hard copy in her own home. Now, she is apologetic and embarrassed and feeling useless. It takes us the best part of two days, on and off, to complete the application.
At the end, I have to tick lots of boxes agreeing to allow the council to check this information, sell her soul to the devil, de da de da. And there’s a box for people completing the form on behalf of someone else to say that they confirm they are that person’s legally appointed representative. Which I’m not. First we’d heard of this. But the computer won’t let me send the form without ticking the box. Neither is there any way of attaching a comment to explain my relationship to Mrs Jones. Nor will it let me return and amend the pages already done to pretend that it’s Mrs Jones herself entering the information.
What the hell. I tick the box, send the form and by the time you read this blog I’ll probably be in Holloway for fraud. In the meantime, I’m longing for the simple life, away from technological tyranny. So as soon as I post this blog, I’m going to plug myself into the Miss Read audiobook I downloaded earlier from the library, and dream of days of chalk and roses.