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08 October 2011

At lunch today will an old friend and colleague, we stumbled upon the memory of a game that we used to play at the school where we were both teachers in the 90s.

Teachermon was a straight forward rip off of one aspect of the incredibly popular (at the time at least) game Pokemon – in which cards containing information about little creatures are used to play a battle. Sort of Top Trumps on speed. It exploded out of Japan in 1996 and suddenly the kids of the world went Pokemon crazy.

So when a boy in Year 10 approached me and asked if it would be ok to create a version of the cards based on the teachers at the school, I thought it simply genius.

This is how it worked:

For each member of staff, a card was created on which was a photograph (usually a very bad photograph), their name, subject and a set of scores against five powers. This was the tricky part, and the funniest part, of creating the game: what would the powers be? The lads in Year 10 wanted to score teachers against things like "interestingness" and "coolness", but we decided that this was too subjective and likely to cheese some teachers off. They ventured "bad breath", "body odour" and the like, but only jokingly and immediately knew that this was not the spirit of the game. Eventually we arrived at powers such as "Years at Our School" – this meant that long servers scored well, and on the whole we liked this idea because some of the long servers were not keen on the idea of the game.

The kids handcrafted a Teachermon logo, and got to work creating the cards.

Once printed, each teacher was given a stack of their own cards and the students started a craze of playing Teachermon at break time. This meant that they had to collect the cards. You could only collect a card if the teacher chose to give it to you. So for example, I gave each member of my tutor set my card.

The craze took off immediately and with great excitement from the students. Kids would run up to you at break time and plead with you for a copy of your card (we carried a stash around in our pockets) and you would regularly hear phrases like "swap you McCourt for Baker."

In no time at all it became obvious that what we had accidentally stumbled upon here was an amazingly effective reward system. Teachers were handing out cards like merits in lessons. Students were knuckling down to work, being helpful beyond the norm and actually doing homework for the chance of getting your card. There was one chap, who'll we will just call Mr Smith, who had worked at the school for 42 years. To be frank, he was struggling with classroom discipline. Suddenly he was a star. He got in to the spirit of the game straightaway and milked it with tongue in cheek – it was notoriously difficult to get his card. If a student managed to coax one out of him there was an immediate buzz around the school. I once heard that someone swapped 20 "normal" teachers for "a Smith". Discipline issues were completely a thing of the past for Mr Smith. He used the renewed energy that good behaviour gave him, the sense of engagement that Teachermon brought and the interactions with students beyond the lesson to rebuild his relationships with them. Even when the game died out two years later, in the year that he would retire, his connection with the students was so strong that he had automatic respect whenever he spoke.

It was great to talk about that year again with my friend this afternoon. We both scratched our heads at what the next Pokemon craze might be and how we might hook in to it. Any ideas?

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