My final maternity leave was over and I was returning to work.
Before announcing my pregnancy, I had been told that I was going to be a Year 7 form tutor – something I had never been despite being a teacher for almost ten years.
I then fell pregnant and subsequently had my form taken away from me before they had even started school. It was understandable though.
I expected to be given a new Year 7 form when I returned to work the following year but I didn’t. I got you.
You were given to me as you were entering Year 10 because your form tutor was switching to part-time.
I didn’t want you, not at first.
No, I wanted a Year 7 form. I wanted the cute eleven year olds who spend their first few weeks in a new school looking like rabbits in the headlights of a fast moving car. You know the type I mean – the sweet, innocent ones – you were them one once.
Did I want a form filled with hormonal fourteen year olds about to embark on their GCSE years – the first year who would be sitting their English and Maths 1 – 9 exams? No, I didn’t, not really.
Then I met you! All doubts I had about your acceptance of me, your potential teenage behaviour, your possible negative attitudes were vanquished almost instantly. Please believe me when I tell that I don’t want you to leave in two weeks.
You’re funny, you’re intelligent, you have a strong work ethic, you’re beautiful, you’re stubborn, you’re kind, you’re sarcastic, you’re polite and you always have my back. Sometimes you’re over whelmed and over worked. Sometimes you’re upset or even heartbroken. More often than not, you finish your homework in my classroom. Sometimes you’re lazy and you just want to give up. I have lost some of you along the way due to your behaviour and attitude (not towards me – never towards me). If only you had talked to those members of staff as you had talked to me and you might still be sitting in my classroom. I have spoken to your parents and carers and learnt about what you love, hate and fear about school and your upcoming exams. I have learnt about your health issues and have been in a room with your parents as they have broken down in tears because they just don’t know what to do with you. I have shouted at you for not getting enough hours sleep, I have scolded you for driving around on a ‘ped’ because I don’t think you’re old enough. I have snatched Coca-Cola off you because you can’t drink it as you’re diabetic. I have listened and empathised as you, rightfully, have had a little moan about your lack of sleep due to a new baby in the house. I have monitored and checked your safety because I thought you were going out with someone who was too old for you. I have bugged you to apply for Head Boy and Head Girl and I have been disappointed in you when you didn’t apply for Prefect when you so thoroughly deserved it. I have tried to talk to you about Star Wars because I know you love it so much. I have been immensely proud of you when you have won certificates and prizes in assembly even though you hate getting up and accepting them.
And what have you given me in return?
Every morning, as I dash in from the school run, you greet me with an ‘ey up Miss’ as I rush in, tell you I am tired, complain about either the traffic, my children, my partner and my complete inability to be a functioning working adult. You take the chairs down from all my tables and open the windows to let some fresh air in. You offer me sweets, drinks and chocolates. You lend me pens when I can’t find one. You reluctantly go pick up my photocopying because I have forgotten to collect it again. You tell your Head of Year that your planner is all signed and up to date when I may have forgotten to sign it every now and again. And every morning, every single morning as you leave my room, you tell me to have a nice day.
You are a diverse bunch and I know you’re not all friends with one another but I know you’re not not friends either. You laugh at one another and I hear quips being passed through the room but I have never seen any sign of malice in anyone of you. Last year, a boy, who spoke no English whatsoever, joined our form. He had travelled from Africa. He was alone and without his family and you made him feel so welcome. I imagine he was apprehensive and scared and yet within days he appeared so happy and I have never seen him without a smile on his face. I could not have been more proud of the boy who became his ‘buddy’ for those first few months as he was settling into his new school, his new surroundings and his new country.
Enough adulation from me for the moment.
Let’s get down to the business end of things. Excuse me while I put on my English Teacher hat.
You are the first year to take the new English and Mathematics 1 – 9 GCSEs and I feel for you, I really do. I was angry at the new changes. I was angry that a corrupt, rich, privately educated man in the current government decided to scrap the way we used to test English Language and Literature. I still can’t get my head around that you’re not going to achieve As, Bs and Cs at the end of it all. The fact that there is no longer any coursework makes me so desperately sad. Not necessarily for the high achievers among you but for the ones who struggle with exams and writing quickly and accurately under timed conditions. Coursework would have meant that, no matter what, you would have achieved a grade. Unfortunately, without coursework it means that some of you won’t. Yes, I will admit it, I think you have been dealt a tough hand and with English and Mathematics teachers learning the new exam specifications literally as they teach, it has been a steep learning curve for all of us. I have had to learn how to teach new texts, new poems and new ways of critically analysing texts (Yes, I mean you EDEXEL ‘evaluate’ question) and sometimes it may have shown in my lessons despite my preparation and planning.
However, (if we are still speaking in card game metaphors) you have been dealt an amazing hand when it comes to the school you are in. Never in my teaching years have I ever seen any year group be given as much support as you have (perhaps that’s because I have seen it as a form tutor for the first time.) As an English Department, we have pushed you and pulled you in every way possible. We have given you mock after mock after mock. You have attended weekly boosters for two years. You receive weekly homework tasks and personalised booklets to complete. You have a designated room to study in until 5pm every evening and my classroom is always open to you. I know some of you hate this amount of work and pressure and yet I also know some of you relish in it and need it. I fear that when it gets to 6pm on an evening and you’re writing another descriptive piece of writing about a beach, you despise everyone of us with a passion but please know this, it’s because we care. It may appear clichéd but with all our hearts we want you to pass these exams. As teachers teaching a brand new exam, we don’t know grade boundaries yet; we have no previous data to rely on. The only thing we can do is give you enough ammunition to walk into that sports’ hall and kick the ass out of these exams.
Also, as a teacher of a core subject, it is easy to become wrapped up in just English. During form time, I yap at you about the language and structure question and I complain to you about the fact that you have to get your timings right in your exam (a mark a minute – come on, how is that even possible?) and what do I forget? I forget that you’re probably getting this from at least eight other subjects too!
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by it all but its not okay to feel stressed, panicked and fearing that if you don’t pass these GCSEs then your future is in tatters. It isn’t. Yes, these exams are important but they don’t define you and won’t influence the adult you are to become. Achieving a 9 or an A* in one or more of your GCSEs won’t necessarily get you to where you want to be in life. Sure, your exam results will help (my GCSEs still appear on my CV) but kindness, compassion, acceptance, patience, love, friendship, support, humility and empathy are the skills that are essential for reaching your end goal. And you, Year 11, already have those skills.
I don’t claim to know much (unless it’s about ‘Game of Thrones’ or Green Day) but what I do know is that there is a big wide world out there that’s yours for the taking, if you want it. Don’t bury your head in the sand and pretend that these exams aren’t happening – they are. At the same time, don’t feel like you can’t ask for support from anyone, you can. You’re our future. You can change the whole landscape of the world if you want to (or you can just grow up to be decent human beings – that’s fine too) and we need you happy, healthy, inspired and prepared to take on whatever life has to throw at you.
If you keep being who you are, then I am certain that the world is in good hands.
Stay safe and I will miss you.