'How marvellous it is to see the really sizzling teachers rewarded'

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The Independent Online

The Awards for Teachers will be blazoned across the small screen on Sunday. You may switch on and see the Oscar-like ceremony, infront of some 1,200 people, where 12 awards are given, ranging from recognition for newcomers in primaryand secondary schools, to prizes for information technology, special needs and school assistance.

The Awards for Teachers will be blazoned across the small screen on Sunday. You may switch on and see the Oscar-like ceremony, infront of some 1,200 people, where 12 awards are given, ranging from recognition for newcomers in primaryand secondary schools, to prizes for information technology, special needs and school assistance.

You will see the winners' highly emotional speeches of thanks to their colleagues as, Hollywood-style, they clutch their trophies, and watch videos of themselves going about their remarkable work in schools. But I was actually there, as one of the "guest presenters" of an award,so I can perhaps fill in on what may not be clearfrom the view-point of your living-room.

Not only was the atmosphere in the main auditorium highly charged, but in the "green room", where we presenters, guests, and media hacks hung out, for once there was no air of jaded, luvvie cynicism. Everyone was glued to the monitors, and I was particularly surprised when one producer started reaching for the Kleenex - a moment only slightly marred by the cameraman, recording off-scene events, immediately homing in. But then again, we were after all on TV territory...

There we were, from a vast range of backgrounds ranging from my academic field to disc jockey, top model, journalist, children's book writing, and, among others, a few top actors - all pulled together in admiration for a profession that is normally taken so much for granted.

I think it's so important now to mark the occasion in print, because surely the evening should be much more than just a quick media flash in the pan. Speaking now as the current President of the Association of Science Teachers, it is really important that as many of us as possible reflect on the wonderful job that teachers do, and think hard about how to improve their lot.

How marvellous it is to see the really sizzling teachers rewarded - let's hope that they serve as role models for their colleagues - but at the same time, it seems unfortunate that we have to ask people to fight against the odds in the first place. So much was made by each of the award-winners of the help they derived from the rest of their school, from the parents, and their family. In many cases, they were fighting a massive uphill battle, and of course they were doing so admirably: but wouldn't it be marvellous if the challenges were not quite so uphill?

The obvious solution, of course, would be to increase pay: but that might not be high on anyone's electioneering agenda, or even possible once no increase in taxes was on the agenda. On the other hand, I have long tried to progress a rather humble little scheme for meshing science schoolteachers with research scientists in industry and universities, so that they felt at one with the scientific community, and could pass on that vigour to their pupils.

In turn, of course, the pupils could visit laboratories, while graduate students could learn valuable communication skills at schools while showing that not all scientists are old andcrusty. Such a twinning scheme, while not giving direct financial benefit to teachers, would at least let science teachers feel that they were part of a wider community, with their finger on the pulse of the latest scientific discovery.

At the ceremony, we each had to engage in one or two minutes' chat with the presenter, Davina McCall. Perhaps inevitably, Davina asked about my own science teachers: but the surprise was that there were none. I hated science at school. Instead, I followed the path of one highly inspirational Veronica Lemon, who happened to teach ancient Greek: accordingly, ancient Greek became my favourite subject, and dictated my choice of A-levels.

I pointed out to Davina that had Miss Lemon been teaching spot welding I would probably have, even now, been a spot welder. The whole point being that an inspirational teacher can really change your life, literally. In the words of the brilliant recruitment ad from a few years ago, everyone remembers a good teacher.

If inspiration is so important to such young minds, and if inspiration can only come from teachers who are themselves properly stimulated and valued, then surely their welfare must be high on our priorities. One of the young teachers who won an award was described on her arrival as though "a light had gone on" in the class in which she taught. That's the kind of attitude that we should never forget. And if much of what I have said here has been said before, and even if you catch the hour or so of TV glitz, it bears repeating again and again and again...

The writer is Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University and Director of the Royal Institution

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