Why I don’t want to be a specialist


I remember making a blog post a year or so ago about the fact that I was being pulled in several different directions and I wasn’t sure if I liked it. We’ve all the heard the phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none”, and I was worried about exactly that.

When I was first starting out in teaching I came from a relatively technical background of computer programming with a bit of networking and web design thrown in for good measure. I expected teaching ICT to be similar, but quickly found I had to brush up some relatively specific tasks – vlookups in Excel, switchboards in Access. This was OK and while it was a little less technical than I would have liked I figured I knew where I stood.

Then along came iMedia, and suddenly I reading documents that referred to the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Means, Shot Angles and Match Cut Edits as though I knew what the heck was being talked about. I had the good fortune to work with some brilliant colleagues from Thespian Studies (or Drama, as they are more commonly known) who got me (and the students) through the basics. Suddenly the Rule of Thirds was being applied not just to images or videos, but to web design, leaflets, presentations and more. I became the media ‘expert’ in the department (for the time being, although I’ve since been superseded in that role).

I still hankered for my programming though, something I had enjoyed since I first realised you could do more than just play cassettes with a Spectrum. I tried a couple of after school clubs over the years, got involved with the AS Computing course and am single handedly manning the new GCSE Computing as of about 3 weeks ago when my first after-school classes started. My Head of Department is more of a coder than I ever was, but I’m up there.

After two and a half years at the school I was looking to move on, until the Head offered my a Second in Department role that was effectively Head of KS3 ICT on paper (although I still maintain that “Assistant to the Head of Department” is essentially what I was doing within the first 12 months) – and so I’ve had the responsibility for managing, preparing and overseeing the KS3 curriculum for some time.

A lot of people have made mention of my love of cross-curricular ICT. The use of Cloud Computing and Web 2.0 to improve access to software and the sharing of ideas. The use of free and open-source software to provide access for students without £3k to drop on a copy of the Adobe Master Suite. The Techy Tips newsletters that I wrote for a while (I’m so far past deadline on the last I’m declaring a hiatus) seemed reasonably popular with a few. My Mukoku resource sharing site is not the central hub for resources just yet but I’m getting a fair bit of traffic and feedback.

Did I also mention that I’m the lead teacher on the AS and A2 ICT courses? And in charge of the school website since a colleague and I redesigned it from scratch 3 years ago?

So I have lots of hats, and it worried me for a long time that I was a master of none of them. What a load of tosh.

OK, I’m no Stanley Kubrick, but not that many people actually know what a Match Cut Edit is. I’m not the best in the school, not even the best in the department, but I can get kids to understand and even apply the rule of thirds, to understand why a low angle shot is menacing and a high angle shot makes the subject look meek. Second best at programming still means I can hack the PHP on the school website well enough, write enough Python and Java to get me up to and including the AS Level Computing standard without having to stay up until 3am. I genuinely think that our KS3 Programme of Study and the resources we have made are pretty sound and while I’m not spending as much time as I have in the past trying to push out ICT ideas to the rest of the staff, I’m still dropping the odd URL in pigeon holes and mentioning particular tools and sites when I get the chance. So yes, I am a “Jack of all trades” – but I think I’m pretty good at most of them. And if I ploughed all my time into programming, or into media, then my life would be a lot less rich and my skills far less useful. So sod being a specialist in one field. Why not just aim to reach the level of “damned good” in all of them?