Three weeks ago I went to a school reunion. Incredibly it has been 20 years since I finished secondary school and completed my GCSEs.
There I am, sat in my final History class in May 1997.
And there I am, front left corner May 2017.
The funny thing is that when I walked in, everyone said I hadn’t changed.
Obviously I have. I have grey hairs. I have wrinkles and crow’s feet. I now wear glasses full time. But the changes inside have been even more striking. I am still shy but I am better at forcing myself to talk to people. I have a partner who loves and respects me, is my support in all I do. I have three children who have taken over my life in ways I never imagined and made me a better person.
This week I invigilated an exam and I was soooo angry. A boy sat there and wrote nothing except his name. We are not allowed to make them take the exam, we are not allowed to tell his parents he did nothing.
What a waste. He has let himself down. He has let his parents down. He has let his teachers down. He has let his school down. He has let taxpayers down. How dare he sit there after receiving 11 years of free education and throw it back in our faces. When there are children in the world who have had to fight to be educated or to be free from the horrors of wars, he thinks it is acceptable to waste his opportunities.
This same boy sat there without a pen or a calculator for a maths exam. He expected to be handed them on arrival (which he was 🙁 ). He said he was too poor to buy them. He said that while sat in designer clothes and trainers that cost more than my entire shoe collection.
I’m not saying it is all his fault because obviously his parents let him get away with it and other adults have been facilitating this behaviour. I hope the real world strikes back when he has to work and earn his own things. Then he’ll learn what value things are.
(On a side note, I still have my school calculator in full working order…)
My children don’t get everything handed to them on a plate. They have to earn their pocket money and they can choose what to buy with it, whether to save for a bigger toy or have several smaller ones. If they want designer gear when they are older then they are more than welcome to buy it but I will not be subsidising them. If they have their Calvin Klein pants on display (like the majority of the boys in the exam!) I will tell them to pull their trousers up.
I keep in touch with old school friends on Facebook but hadn’t seen any for years. It was lovely to see everyone and catch up properly. One of those at the reunion said ‘I’ve lost track of my best friends from school – mostly they seem to have dropped off the net’. So to those teens in the exam showing off, trying to be ‘cool’, forget it, you aren’t making a lasting impression and will end up being remembered for the wrong reasons. In today’s troubled world, be kind not cool.
One of those at the reunion is Tony, who is a university lecturer now and has this advice for teens: ‘Pay a lot of attention to past exam papers, but don’t bank everything on them. There’s a huge amount of pressure on school students these days – I’ve had 11-year-olds visit work and ask about how they can game the system to get the best marks for the exams in eight years time for uni entry. Sleep is really important for revising and studying. Also, explaining a subject to your friends is one of the best ways to learn it. I’m still finding this out now.‘
I think Tony and I were quite similar at school (sorry,Tony!) and he summed up his school days in the same way that I think of them : ‘Some bits were great while other bits were quite lonely. I never really fitted in all that well, but I got better at it over time’. The person you are at school is so different to who you end up being. And having kids will change you completely!
I have written before with advice for my kids for their exams and I stand by what I wrote previously. But what I want to emphasise is:
Don’t waste your opportunities.
Try your best each time so you can be proud of yourself.
True for teenagers and for us adults too…