Every 5 years or so there’s a particularly intense Thursday that looms near the end of August. At 8:30 250 16 year olds will be piling into the school Hall in various states of wakefulness, nervousness and nonchalance. While I’ve taught all of them over the years, 25 of them in particular have had to tolerate my varying levels of caffeination every morning for far too many years. While I’m not sure any of us teachers feel confident in predicting any numbers this year, I do predict there will be tears, of both joy and frustration, I predict hugs and I definitely predict shrieks that may well disturb bats in the next county.
So who are some of the individuals behind the bravado, tears and squeals?
When I joined my current school I had spent 13 years at my previous place and I wasn’t quite prepared for the disorientation and unfamiliar sense of being swept along rather than being in control. The first morning I discovered that Sarah in my tutor group is the granddaughter of a colleague at my previous school, and her uncle had been one of my first year 11’s. That simple connection became an anchor that somehow grounded me through the whirling maelstrom of the early days. That and the fact we both get that there’s very little that can’t be accurately summarised in a Marvel quote.
In the front row is Annie. In year 8 and 9 she spent morning registration methodically and conscientiously working through the Accelerated Reader programme to support her reading. In year 10 it was an absolute joy to be able to share her journey through the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series. (‘OH MY GOSH, YOU’RE GETTING TO A REALLY GOOD BIT’ is not a spoiler, right?…) GCSE’s have seen a shy, quiet young lady blossom as she has been able to focus on the subjects showcasing her creativity and empathy.
Next to her is Sam. He’s going to be fine, but I can’t help but feel I failed Sam. Polite, smart, helpful, bottom sets for everything and a master of avoidance, not so much of work but of admitting he was stuck. I spent two years trying to get him to realise it was OK to need and accept help and he spent two years nodding, smiling and finding ever more creative ways to avoid writing down the wrong answer. I think his confidence will come. I know his future colleagues will respect him as someone they can always rely on to get the job done properly. I’m fairly sure at some point in the future I will end up paying him a vast amount of money to fix that rattle on my car.
Towards the back is Kira. I didn’t see that much of her in Yr10 and when I did it usually involved a lot of eye-rolling and door-slamming (mostly her). I don’t think I ever totally convinced her that there was a point to school, the teachers didn’t hate her and she wasn’t thick but I did get an occasional smile in Year 11 and a plan to become a social worker “because I’ll know how to handle kids like me” so I’ll take that as a win. I hope she’ll stay with us for sixth form. I think she’ll make it through the two years. I’m damn sure there’ll be some interesting times along the way and to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Across the room there’s Tom and James. Both hoping to get in to a local grammar (grammar school rant deleted…), if anyone nails those elusive grade 9’s it’ll be them. James is your model student, hugely respected by staff and his peers. He spent the last few months of Yr11 revising with his friends at lunchtime in my lab and the patience and clarity with which he would explain things to them should form part of a PGCE course. I would love him to come back to our place, and I expect him to make head boy if he does, but his quiet confidence means I can see him thriving at a grammar. Tom is outwardly more confident, to the point of arrogance, the arrogance that fails to completely mask a million insecurities. Over the last year he has had to watch his dad slip into the fog of early onset dementia, and the grace, courage and openness with which he has handled this is truly humbling. He, on the other hand, I hope will stay with us. He’s a huge fish in a medium sized pond at the moment and I worry that moving to a lake with some fair sized carp might shatter that brittle ‘confidence’. Wherever he goes I want to know there is someone who will check in with him, who can differentiate between the similar sounding but oh so different translations of ‘fine’.
a) Not really fine but coping if people would just leave me alone.
b) Really not fine. Please help.
Clare is beyond amazing. 2018 Britain, where kids hide in the dark from bailiffs, don’t know whose floor they or their siblings will sleep on that night and sneak into school early enough to wash and brush their teeth in the toilets before their friends arrive. I don’t have the words to explain how incredible it is that she is even collecting GCSE grades, let alone that she will be joining us in the sixth form.
Emma is the sort of teenager that genuinely humbles me. Throughout her GCSE’s her younger sister has been in all sorts of difficulties, regularly running away. It has not been unusual for Emma to turn up to school having been out half the night with the police looking for her sister. I have sat through family conferences supposedly acting as her advocate, but I wish I had a tenth the insight she shows to know how she feels and what she needs, a tenth the eloquence with which she can articulate those feelings and needs, and a tenth the confidence she has to know she deserves to be heard.
As anyone who knows me will know, I could go on. And on. And on… These are just a few individuals from one class. There are so many other stories across the country. As many of us head for a restless night, well, I guess if you’ve got this far you get my point.
*looks at predicted grades. rolls perception check. d20 + 10*
So how do the numbers fit in to these stories…
Sarah got the 7s and 8s that we all expected she would but I don’t think she dared hope for. And a 9 in Art! She’ll stay with us for the Sixth form and I have no doubt will one day be designing Marvel sets or costumes 🙂
Annie is just making my heart burst with happy ❤️ The simple 5’s and 6’s on her piece of paper represent 5 years of consistent hard work and progress. Nestled amongst those 5’s and 6’s hid a 9 IN ART!!! *insert laughing crying jaw-hitting the floor emoji* Did I mention creativity?
Sam nailed his 3s and 4s. Secured his place at college. Still not diagnosed the rattle on my car yet though. 😉
Kira got 5’s and 6’s and a place in our sixth form. I predict interesting times ahead 🙂
James literally opened his envelope with shaking hands to find straight 9’s in the sciences. As of 11:30 this morning he was changing his mind from minute to minute as to whether to accept the grammar school place or stay with us. My professionalism may have resulted in a well and truly bitten tongue.
Tom got the 9 in maths and the pass in Additional maths he needed for the grammar school and I think he’ll take up the place.
Clare got 4’s and 5’s and our sixth form will be the better next year for having a place for her in it.
Emma got 5’s and 6’s and a place with us. I predict a place on our senior prefect team and a head girl campaign…