Education Quandary: 'Pupils have set up a Facebook tribute to my deputy head but what about his colleagues?'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

As a head, you're right to worry about the morale of your entire staff. But get real; Facebook is here, and you can't control it. These tribute sites are springing up all over the place, many carrying hundreds of messages from present and past students, and it is a wonderful way for teachers to hear about the influence they have had over the years.

Of course it isn't fair, as you point out, that only the most charismatic teachers attract these accolades. Diligent but less personable teachers tend to stay under the radar. But that's just how it is, and perhaps always was. Also, I think you'll find that, if you dig deeper, pupils always know which of their teachers are good and are usually generous in their assessment of who has helped them.

In this field of personal reputations, your main job is probably twofold. First, you need to keep a close eye on any electronic messaging or networking pupils do about their teachers in order to act quickly against any threads of abuse or invective that might come to light. Second, you need to make sure that everyone in your school is visibly praised for their contributions, and that all your teachers are presented to your pupils as a close team of valued individuals.

Privately, of course, you will be crossing your fingers and hoping that your deputy head's popularity might prompt his colleagues to work harder to earn that kind of unsolicited praise from their pupils!

Readers' advice

My former English teacher has a tribute page on Facebook, to which people from all over the world have contributed, some remembering lessons given more than 20 years ago. We didn't appreciate Shakespeare and Wordsworth much at the time, and he didn't get good feedback then, so it must be such a kick for him now to see how much more of his teaching stuck with us than he realised.

John McHardy, Surrey

Our son worshipped his art teacher, who was a very flamboyant and iconoclastic individual, who liked to talk to all his sixth-formers as equals – but then, our son failed his A-level. In economics he did really well, despite a teacher who was dull and strict. Pupils' judgements aren't mature enough to be valid and are bound to give rise to in-school resentments. If I were a school manager, I would be encouraging my deputy to think about the consequences of having a page like this.

Jean Ryland, Essex

At 80, I can still remember Miss Chadwell, who taught me, at nine, to love reading. I would have jumped at the chance to tell her so. She read stories to us and made us see how they could help us understand ourselves, the world and other people. It lit such a spark in me that I went on to university to do English and then worked in publishing. I think it is completely marvellous that today's pupils are using Facebook in this way.

Grace Kolbalt, Devon

Next Quandary

Dear Hilary, Our son is starting school this September aged four years and two months. The school he is going to has no phased intake, and all children start full time in the autumn. It is a good school and we are fairly sure that he will cope but we are wondering if there is anything practical we can do to help him.

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