Teachers – hear our voices – ‘The boy who never got his picture taken!’
This is the first of a series of blog posts I will be sharing with you about what some of our learners feel, think and want to share with us about education. I am giving them a platform to share their voices with us in an honest and open manner.
Some of their names are anonymous in these posts to protect the identity of individuals who want to tell their stories. Some of the comments may shock you, others you will be familiar with.
This is the first of many blogs to come.
‘The boy who never had his picture taken!’
My name is Josh and I’m 18 years old.
I’ve received my ‘A Level’ results this week and to be perfectly honest with you, I’m both sad and relieved that the difficulty of opening ‘that’ envelope has now passed. During my school life I have worked hard, studied to the best of my ability and tried to please both my teachers and parents as much as I could. I have always gained high marks and praise for my work in class, whether it was a practical task, written or homework.
I always had thinking time as part of my learning you see. But, I never found revising an easy task. I did the post-it notes around the house, I did the bullet point lists, I tried repeating everything after trying to memorise facts and formulas, diagrams and vocabulary. I even revised with my friends. I thought that I was doing ok. I could repeat much of what I had learned to my parents, friends and teachers. I was what they called in school a ‘high flying student!’ Until……….I sat the exams. But I never told anyone of my problems until now.
I’m not a morning sort of guy. I like to stay awake late into the night working, it’s my best thinking time, and it’s where I gain most of my confidence with creative writing and mind mapping. Just getting ideas down on anything and everything. I’m what they call ‘creative’ too. So, as you can see, I already had two labels.
My school ran some revision session for us before the exams, yes, the bacon and sausage sandwiches they laid on we’re very nice, but they only aggravated the rumble tumble of nerves I already had in my stomach before going into that large, dark hall of desks and chairs. To be honest, I’ve had nightmares about that visualisation of that Hall ever since. Rows and rows of desks and chairs set out with military precision. It looked like a factory of empty seats ready for robots to take their places.
That’s what sitting the exams made me feel like, a robot.
When I was in the exam hall I remember thinking…..
‘Here I am, like everyone else. Not me being me, but me being the same as everyone else. Being tested in the same way. This exam system not making any of this fit for me, the way I like to share my knowledge, skills and understanding of the questions, but a completely weird way of pressure testing. It just isn’t right’
If I had the opportunity to sit at a different type of table, with a comfortable chair and in warm surroundings, away from all this robotic type examination system, then maybe I would have had a chance to show the examiner, the teachers, my parents, and myself what I am capable of reproducing – because, to be fair that’s all an exam is….the reproduction of information memorised or stored. It’s not a true test of how great a learner I am. And I know I’m a good learner, as my brain is constantly thinking, I’m keen to learn and have shown previously I can do well, but NOT in the physical sitting of the exam for hours on end. I may be a student in the school, but physically sitting there in rows was always so impersonal and forceful at times, I felt locked in a cage not being able to escape until the invigilator would say ‘Five minutes remaining’. This system does not help me show the world what I’ve learned or know, as anxiety, worry and stress causes me problems, did during the exams, and I am only now able to share this as I can be honest and open because I can keep my story anonymous. That has really helped me to open up.
I guess the worst thing about this is that I didn’t visibly show the signs to others. I kept it locked inside trying to be the ‘good, high-flying, creative student’ they labelled me as. Today, that label has been taken away….not that I ever wanted to be labelled in school, and never want to ever again. But this week, I was labelled the student who ‘failed’, the one who was ‘so capable’ and ‘obviously didn’t revise!’ – that’s what they thought anyway! I heard them, so many of them. It has rung in my ears for a few days now.
The saddest part for me was not the grades, but one of the teachers saying to me…..’And we all such high hopes for you Josh. We were looking forward to seeing you in the local newspaper and maybe even on twitter, celebrating our school results with a fabulous picture of you jumping in the air with your 3A’s – but that won’t happen now, will it? Such a shame, you must have really wasted your time during those exams to do so badly’
Can you imagine how I felt at that point?
I was now the ‘boy who never had his picture taken’, but should have!
My Nan and Grandad came with me to the school as my parents were working. I asked them not to come in with me, as I just had that sinking feeling that the examination results were not going to reflect the great learner that I am.
I walked back to the car, slowly, feeling as though I had a neon sign above my head saying, “Josh, the boy who never had his picture taken!” because he failed his exams.
Well, I guess I didn’t fail them completely; I got a C D and an E – predicted 3A’s!!!
My Nan and Grandad waited patiently and they could tell that I was upset and sad. My face must have been a picture. As grandparents do, they did the right thing. Gave me a massive hug and granddad said ‘Right then, Pie and a Pint I think’, which we did. And, after that we had a long chat about the issues and problems of ‘sitting’ exams.
To be honest with you the whole experience is still raw and hurtful, because the examination results haven’t shown what I know, understand and can do, purely because of nerves, stress and anxiety. But what I do know is that there must be hundreds of other students like me. So…Teachers, Headteachers, Educators and those that make us ‘sit’ those dreadful exams in dreadful circumstances. Please, help those of us who do love to learn, are inquisitive about the world and want to make a difference, remember we are all different and need the right environments to do our best.
Teachers – hear our voices (please listen Mrs Morgan the Education Secretary)
Please help us by:
- Considering a different way for us to show and share with you what we have learned.
- Let some of us use digital devices to help with our thinking and learning so that we don’t have to have a scribe or sit the exam for longer! – that’s just plain cruel.
- Give us help in dealing with anxiety, stress and school expectations. Teach us how to deal with these terrible things, or if not teach us, give us strategies. No one has ever told me or spoken to me about how bad it can get. But now I have experienced it and it’s had a massive effect on my exam results. I was just too scared to tell anyone how bad it really was. At one point I felt like self-harming because the stress was so bad. HELP the other students too.
- Do not judge us by tests, exams and data. We are humans not robots.
- Let me share my learning with you in a way which fits the way I think and learn. Give me opportunities to be me and not RoboJosh.
- If I don’t meet the grades, your expected grades, do not judge me as a failure, support me and ask me what went wrong and maybe I can finally tell you how bad it was.
Thank you to my teachers who worked tirelessly with me to prepare me for the exams.
I am sorry I let you down.
I am sorry for not getting you the grades.
I am sorry if I have caused you trouble with the Headteacher.
I am sorry that I couldn’t have my picture taken.
I am sorry for not telling you sooner how bad it really was.
We all know as students you will be judged on our results, and for that I ask the Educationalists to also consider another way, because that does NOT represent the brilliant teaching, superb lessons and amazing school relationships you had with us as students. The outside world has no idea what you teachers do….it’s above and beyond anything. Sorry and thank you at the same time.
To be honest I don’t know what I am going to do right now as it’s all so raw, the day I ‘never got my picture taken!’
Thanks to Nina Jackson (or the Ninja as we call her) for letting me speak honestly and openly. I hope more students, children, even you as teachers let her share your stories openly and honestly with the world.
Teachers – this was my voice today, on Saturday, 15th August 2015.
Josh – 18-year-old student.
I hope that allowing Josh to have a voice in this blog will help other students, as well as highlighting to us as teachers and educationalists the issues surrounding many of our students sitting exams.
Thank you for your time. Do get in touch.
Over and out
Special Snowflake - August 19, 2015
As someone who is also a special snowflake I agree. I didn’t bother learning my work either but I told UCAS I’d get 3A* but I didn’t it’s not fair. Instead of exams in an hour we should be given the whole year to write a 2 page essay where the answers can be googled. Also I believe that my ability to crumble under pressure is not an issue in later life so the examination system should just ignore it.
Keep up the good work Josh!
Stuart - August 27, 2015
This article very much resonated with me – thank you Josh for writing it and thank you Nina for hosting it. All but the stress aspect in this article and it could so have been me…. consider that had to take O Levels – yes, I’m older 😉 – and only came away with 3 of the 13 I was forced to take. At least some modern exams have a modicum of course based work behind them – BUT, I feel the pain. I was that high flying class student that couldn’t do exams.
Unfortunately, in my chosen career path of IT, one still needs to “have that bit of paper” showing you are capable and I have had to accept that colleagues whom know less than I but can sit exams get further than I. It is what it is… I am at peace with that.
Nina Jackson - September 14, 2015
Thank you Stuart for you comments. Really appreciate it.