School Days are the Happiest Days of your Life?
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School Days are the Happiest Days of your Life?
When I was given this assignment, my initial reaction was this is
easy! Half an hours writing- homework complete. Fifteen minutes later
I find that it is incredibly difficult to sort out the jumble of
thoughts, memories and feelings, that are fighting each other in the
race to be the first to blot this pristine white page.(melodramatic,
I suppose I could take the easy way out, and write that looking back;
my school days were happy, carefree days. The sun always shone. I had
no real worries. Friends were plentiful and life was all about, fun,
fun, fun. Well I could, but that would entail not being completely
honest. I mean, certainly a not immodest percentage of school,
(compared with life today) was carefree but by no means all of it. My
over-riding recollections of school are the memories of never quite
fitting in; the never quite making it into the 'in crowd.' Not that I
wanted in, you understand. I wanted to be different (not another
lemming) just not so different that I stood out.
I blame my mother for that mentality for she drummed it into us all.
If I spoke the usual refrain," but all my friends are her response
was always." if your friend stuck her hand in the fire- would you do
it too?" Well the answer to that was no, and when you said so, mum
would smile and say," of course not love, you have your own mind.
You're not a lemming; don't be afraid to be different." I was left
feeling proud of myself for being 'different', but oh God, I still
wanted that denim jacket, or those Adidas trainers, or to stay out for
that extra half an hour; or the myriad of other 'things' that would
have enabled me to fit in. Money was always tight when I was at
school. With four kids to buy for - I feel mum used the lemming story
no us, just so she wouldn't have to say "I can't afford it." At
school, every deficit, both real and imagined between you and the 'in
crowd' made you insecure. It could be your haircut, shoes or even just
the number of pleats our gym skirt had. (Mine had none.) Plain skirts
Positive Body Image, or lack of it in my case, was a major problem. I
went through school convinced that I was fat and ugly. Fat!? I was
only 81/2 stones! I would kill to be that weight again - and as for my
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School Days Happiest Way Out Stay Out Easy Way Life Today Percentage Always Feeling Smile
other two attributes? My boobs started growing in p.6. By p.7, I was
into my first bra- and didn't the bra-less school bully love me! By
third year, my chest rivaled Sam Foxes! My bust was a shapely 34DD;
couple that to a 24" waist and 35"hips, I must have had a figure to
die for. So what was the problem? Well, unfortunately the girls I
wanted to be like were more akin to Kate Moss than Sammy Fox; you know
the type, tall and thin with no discernable bust or hips. I felt like
a freak; I walked around school for the whole five years with my
shoulders rounded, sucking in my non-existent stomach!
I remember at the start of second year, being bought knee-high white
socks. They were hand-picked by myself, and had a very elegant criss-
cross diamond pattern down one side. On the second week of wearing
them, the elastic on one sock broke, and the stupid thing would
gradually slide down my leg as I walked. I remember being absolutely
mortified. Everyone else's socks stayed up, and I was constantly
hauling at mine. So I badgered my mum to buy new ones. She did- three
weeks of mortification later; within days of proudly wearing my new
'stay ups', an 'in girl' decided it would be cool to wear your socks
bunched around your ankles - and did my mum allow me to bunch up my
new socks? Like hell she did. I was the only girl in my class to wear
them knee-high for weeks!
I think older generations must look back on their school days through
the milky glaze of cataracts, when they say that school days were the
happiest. I would buy into that sentimentality about primary school,
but I'm still young enough to remember the insecurities, angst and
loneliness of secondary school, fuelled as they were by the raging
hormones of puberty, and the overwhelming need to conform. Adolescence
and school aren't any less stressful of difficult than adulthood. Your
perception of life, and how you relate to it, grows as you so -as does
your ability to prioritise difficulties and problems. A teenager's
world is smaller than an adult; and they play the major role within
it. Adults see the bigger picture, and realise that they are,
unreality a very small cog.
So, would I go back to my school days? If I could return with the
knowledge and life experiences I have now, simply to enjoy the freedom
of school; the answer would be yes! - Send me now. But to return as I
was then, with all the insecurities, self-doubt and trauma that
puberty, adolescence and school invariably bring? Not in a million
As I tentatively, after a number of years away, poke my toes back into the shark-infested waters of the teaching world and start some private tuition next week, I’m surrounded by what feels like hundreds of documents from the new national curriculum – it focuses on a more ‘traditional’ approach apparently. As I update myself on the latest advice and wade through end of year expectations, performance descriptors and the new assessment procedures, I’m reminded why I do not want to return to the classroom. I still want to teach, yes. But I really dislike the ‘one size fits all’ approach. I hope by working on a 1:1 level with students I can get to know each of them individually and ensure that their learning is engaging and enjoyable.
Though that still leaves me wondering about those children in mainstream classrooms that, however hard they try, they just can’t quite fit in to the rigid school environment. Square pegs in round holes. The ones, like my grandfather, that have an innate ability to play around with language, yet their creativity is being stifled by the need for neat handwriting and correctly punctuated work. Or those that struggle to even put pen to paper while at the same time being incredibly intelligent. Are they failures by the time they are eleven because they are unable to reach the age appropriate requirements? Surely not.
I think I feel so passionately about this subject because my own experience of school, as a whole, was pretty negative and has affected how I view myself, even as an adult. I struggled academically and had very poor co-ordination so had to work exceptionally hard. Luckily, I am very stubborn and tenacious and eventually caught up and progressed relatively well. Though, looking back, if I had the chance to take certain exams a year or two later I may have got higher grades and achieved more. My parents did their best to support me, however, I’ve always felt like the ‘dummy’ of the family, especially in comparison to my very clever older brother.
So when, thirty or so years later I saw my own son Charlie becoming disengaged and unhappy at school, I felt quite sick – was history repeating itself? The school had called me in to discuss all the problems he was having. He couldn’t hold his pencil correctly, use scissors to cut neatly and he was taking too long to get changed for PE. They also told me that he was painstakingly shy and never put his hand up. Oh yes, and, even though he could read fluently, they told me he wasn’t able to comprehend what he was reading. I was desperately upset, as this was not the Charlie we knew and, to be honest, they were talking complete rubbish. An educational psychologist was called in and, as it turned out, he concluded that Charlie had a very high IQ and was just thoroughly bored.
We eventually moved Charlie to another school and though not perfect, (nowhere ever will be I suspect), it’s much better. They treat him as an individual and recognise his strengths. He’s happy and he’s thriving. Work is at a higher level and his co-ordination difficulties are being addressed.