Goodbye Mr Chips

Konrad Glogowski is my all-time favourite educational blogger. Partly this is because he posts so rarely that he’s easy to follow, but mainly it’s because he’s a teacher not a techie.

Konrad’s latest post is a real treat. He’s talking about how he responds to his students’ writing, and gives an example of a lengthy and encouraging response

This is probably one of your best essays, if not, in fact, your best ever. As soon as I saw the title I knew that this would be a great read. It was! I was thoroughly engaged in your work and often felt as if I were discovering this novel for the very first time…(read the rest)

So what’s this got to do with educational technology? Nothing. With leading-edge teaching practise? Nothing. With old-fashioned English teaching? Everything. This could have come straight out of Mr Chips. And therein lies its charm.

Therein also lies its (near-)fatal flaw. How does Konrad find the time to leave 345 word-long comments on every item his students write? Because he’s teaching in Canada, that’s how. There, he can legitimately trade-off frequency of marking for quality of comment. The Canadian system is geared far less to the production-line values foisted on us in the UK by a decade and a half of excessive political interference in education.

So – he can do it, but we can’t. Goodbye, Mr Chips.

Well, perhaps not. There are ways to free up teacher time.

We’ve been at work for years in Chalkface on ways to mark work automatically, specifically so that the dull stuff can be got out of the way and you can concentrate your attention where it will do most good. That’s one way.

And you can get more radical than that. For example, look at TutorVista. In a recent post to the Distance Learning list at Becta, they boasted “Our Tutors are based in India and are familiar with the UK Curriculum”. You see the possibility? Outsource all your marking to well-trained Indian professionals, thus helping to fund education in the third world and freeing up your own time into the bargain.

You may be feeling just a tad threatened at this point. Your job, and pension, outsourced to India? I don’t think so. Look at Konrad’s comment again. Do you really think that could have been made by somebody who did not know the student? More importantly, would it have had an impact on the student had there not already existed a close teacher-student bond?

Suddenly, we get to the heart of where Konrad, and you, add value. It’s not in the facts you teach, or the marks you give. You inspire and motivate young people to learn by who you are, and the relationship you build with them.

In my opinion, technology can and should help by freeing you up from other stuff that gets in the way of that relationship, but true teaching requires no more than a paper and pencil, and a kind word.


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6 responses to “Goodbye Mr Chips”

  1. I was wondering why you outsource all your marking to well-trained Indian professionals only. Why not try some of us in Pakistan? We are trained, and pretty competent too, even if I may say so myself.
    If you would like to contact us, do send me a mail at

  2. As the Country Manager for Tutorvista, I am interested to read the comments on our service. The idea you propose on marking is only the tip of the iceberg. As a teacher, with limited time resources, how do you personalise the learning experience, extend school activity, look after the gifted and talented, and keep sane. So far technology has been about networks and fairly static content ( with a few flash movies).

    Now think of this, you need 200 hours of mathsphysicschemistry tutoring to lift a years grades, you can have them. You want to make available mixed subject tutoring at your school for 2 hours after school closes, with one teacher to supervise, easy. You want to give a boost to the students who could pass the exam if you had more time to allocate to them, no problem. You want to ensure that students do at least some work over the holidays, fixed.
    You want to offer additional tutoring through your VLE, done.

    The resources to use our services are in every school thanks to the ICT investment over the last few years. The take up of broadband across the country is extending those resources into the home.

    Are we going to replace teachers,

    No, not our intention. People travel thousands of miles to be educated in the United Kingdom because of the quality of our education system. Our qualification and exam system is recognised all over the world in countries like India.

    We are a teaching resource, another tool for teachers to use to increase the results attained in schools.

    We are keen to trial our service with schools and education establishments across the UK.

    Take a look at the site or contact us and we will be happy to answer any questions or arrange a demonstration.

    Martin Baker

  3. I am reading “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”, and I am confusing. Mr. Chips wrote:”This was the kind of fight in which the Germans busied themselves.” Students thought it’s very funny. I don’t get it. Germans made themselves busy in World War 1. What’s so funny? Could somebody kindly solve my puzzle?

  4. Ron, it would be courteous to declare your affiliation to schooltrainer rather than making out that you are neutral here.

  5. I too would like to compare various tutoring sites, such as Vie-Nova, Tutoring School Trainer, Tutor Easy and Tutor Next. Do you have any comparative data on this?

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