The lowest moments of my teaching career have been when I’ve stopped and realised that I was repeating the same bland expressions used by my teachers all those years ago. I would be lying if I said that my school experience was a happy one; indifferent teachers mostly, each day wrestling with unending mundanity. I shudder to think that the students I teach would have a similar experience.
Watching Jeremiah McDonald’s short film, ‘A Conversation with my Twelve year old self’, (scroll down to the end of this post to see it) brought back some bad memories of school. In August, thirty twelve year old kids will arrive in my class, embarking on their Secondary school education. Fresh from Primary school, they will no doubt be filled with a mix of nerves and expectation. So, if one of them was the twelve year-old me, what advice would I give myself? Here goes:
1- These six years will be the last free formal education you will receive? Enjoy them. Don’t get hung up on exams and assessments. Ask questions and learn as much of what you want to learn as possible.
2- In a couple of years, your teachers and parents will start to obsess about University. Don’t sweat it so much. It ain’t the be all and end all. You’ll go, eventuallY, if you really want to. Your friends will get caught up in that and end up in, for the most part, mundane jobs. Don’t think you are inferior if you don’t go to Uni at 17. You probably will hate it then anyway.
3- No matter what happens, no matter how bad the teachers try to make you feel, no matter what they tell you, pick up a pencil and draw more; paint, sing, dance, play. Natural talent is a myth, you can get better at anything if you want to. Work hard at things you enjoy and don’t let anything get in the way of that. Because you will regret it if you don’t. Believe me. You’ll regret it.
4- Teachers are just people. They are there, mostly, to help you, but they don’t know everything. Some may not even be as smart as you. They, apart from a small few, want you to do well. Work with them but don’t accept everything they throw at you. Ask questions. They may not like it and they will probably let you know but don’t move on when you don’t understand. That’s what you’re there for. And that’s what they’re there for.
5- Nobody died from getting a ‘C’ for Higher English. Exam results are very temporary. The most important thing is that you read every night under that little lamp attached to your head board which you bought with your pocket money last year. There is a big old world outside school and you’ll see that school is, as Ian Gilbert says, just a phase you’re going through.
None of my friends had particularly positive experiences at Secondary School. Friends from Aberdeen to Ayr, Dumfries to Dundee all share tales of misery, horrible teachers, terrible lessons. I strive to ensure that anyone who comes through my class doesn’t leave with that memory. So, when your new recruits turn up in August/ September what’s going to be different for them? Looking back to our twelve year old selves might just help us to answer that question.