Michael Benzine, three-time nominee for Aldi’s Regional Food Tech Teacher of the Year award, is in London to give a keynote speech at BETT (the British Edutainment Technology Tshow) at London’s Olympia in London.
We are here to follow his path to the heart of the educational establishment as he champions technology as a means to broaden access to learning opportunities and increase engagement in education amongst those groups disenfranchised and alienated by traditional curricula from an anachronistic age of bygone industrialisation designed around the biorhythms of the annual harvest.
Michael is accompanied by his teaching assistant, Glynnis Hardacre, who is carrying his “duffel bag of tech” as Michael fiddles with his lanyard.
“I’ll be giving a talk entitled ‘Engingaging the Learndeprived: from Dunderhead to Thunderpreneur’,” explains Michael, straightening his lanyard. Glynnis adjusts Michael’s lanyard and brushes crisp crumbs from his jacket front.
“And why are you wearing that bandana?” I ask. Michael puts his fingers gingerly to his crown and adjusts a red and white paisley bandana.
“As a teacher, as a facilitator of learning experiences, I’m a maverick, a mod, a motivational muse.”
“So why are you wearing the bandana?”
Michael seems engrossed in the hologram on his lanyard. “He saw someone on Twitter wearing one and thought he looked really nice,” offers Glynnis, smiling.
In a twist on the conventional keynote, Michael will be wearing an Oculus Rift (the virtual reality headset) during his speech and projecting the images that he sees real-time to the audience as they watch and listen to him.
“I want the audience to experience the experience, as it were, through my eyes: to see what I’m seeing as they see what they’re seeing. As I’m talking, they’ll be able listen to the words that I’m saying,” Glynnis is nodding at me as Michael continues, “and see themselves listening.”
“It’s radical.” offers Glynnis.
“And hopefully, as they are being reflected, they’ll also be encouraged to reflect on their practice.”
“Reflect.” says Glynnis.
It’s now coming up to 10am and Glynnis is cuing the Spotify playlist that will accompany elements of Michael’s keynote.
“He calls it a keynote,” she confides, “but I think the keynote is Ken Robinson.”
Ken Robinson is a leading Los Angeles-based educationalist popular amongst teachers in the United Kindgom.
“I love him,” says Glynnis, inadvertently blaring out the intro to The Beloved’s Hello on the London Olympia’s PA system. “He’s got a lovely jawline and he remembers what it was like to be at school. Do you remember what it was like to be at school?”
“Yes,” I reply.
“I do too,” says Glynnis, gazing whistfully towards Michael, who is explaining to Keith, Bracewell Primary’s NQT how to operate the MP3 DJ turntable. “Michael remembers what it was like to be at school as well.”
“Many of us do.” I say.
It is now 11am and Michael’s speech is over. Despite accidentally punching an elderly RS teacher in the face during his Eye of the Tiger outro down the aisle of the auditorium, the speech was an extraordinary success.
After a heated conversation at the back of the auditorium with a man and a woman – the man, balding and waving a copy of Oliver Twist; the woman, excitedly pointing her smartphone at a SAT paper – Michael, glistening with sweat, bounds over to us.
“That was the DfE,” he beams. “They were so impressed by my concept of using augmented reality teachers to mark children’s work whilst real teachers teach using CD-roms, that…” He pauses and Glynnis brushes a bead of sweat off his lanyard.
“You are looking at the Department for Education’s new Edu Tech Czar!”
Glynnis makes an O with her mouth and then turns to me with a smile.