I don't know about everyone else but 2020 has really ground me down. Obviously the pandemic has been awful for everyone but I have been most affected by the impact it has had on our students. Young people who have been trained since they started school to focus on excelling in exams have either had those exams ripped away or face the uncertainty of what they will look like in 2021. The content of some exams has been reduced and the exams have been shifted three weeks further on to allow a little additional time but no-one knows what the New Year holds or how each individual student will be impacted. For students, it's scary and confusing and I know that some are reaching the "what's the point?" phase of their fear. For parents and teachers it's infuriating and terrifying in equal measures as the uncertainty lingers over every decision made.
I am in awe of teachers, particularly secondary school teachers, who are attempting to hold everything together through this (and, if you are a headteacher who is currently trying to balance a duty of care with the demands of OFSTED then I salute you). Teachers are there to support students through their exams and this job has been made almost impossible in recent months. But what I have to say isn't really for teachers. It's not even really for parents. Students: huddle round, I'm going to let you into a secret.
Are we alone? Quite sure that no-one's reading over your shoulder? I'm going to tell you something that you may have suspected for a while but that no-one has been willing to admit to you... Are you ready? This is going to be a bit like taking the Blue Pill in the Matrix (or is it the Red Pill? I was never really paying proper attention).....
Exams are bollocks. No honestly they are. I say that in full knowledge that they are all that you have been thinking about for the last couple of years. I say that despite the fact that most people come to me to help them through their exams. I say that as a regular examiner for major exam boards....
Because actually, the exams are the least important part of your school career. The really important bit, the bit that you carry with you, the bit that changes you and helps you grow is the learning. Two hours sat in a drafty gym writing essays on the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic is valuable only insofar as it is the end result of your reading, your analysis, your questioning and your research. That hall represents nothing more than a snapshot of your abilities at a specific time, in a specific place under circumstances in which you will never find yourself in real life. Do you honestly think that the 700 words you churn out on Dicken's use of imagery is your passport to success? Of course it isn't. It may get you a particular grade but that is such a tiny tiny part of who you are that it becomes almost completely inconsequential.
Does this mean that the last couple of years have been pointless? Or that there's no good reason to do any work now? Nope. Quite the contrary. Because while the exams may be a moveable feast of mindless box ticking, the learning that you do to prepare for them is anything but.
We do not know what your exams will look like in June, but who cares? There are still wonderful, WONDERFUL books to be read and discussed and analysed and criticised. There are still a million events and people from the past to be investigated, parallels to be drawn, lessons to be learned. You will need to go through some motions in June but until we know for certain what they are, focus on progress - YOUR PROGRESS. There will be times when you (or your teachers) panic because you are "falling behind" but if you are continually using your historical and literary skills, it doesn't matter. Subject knowledge is easy to pick up (honest - and if you don't believe me I'll do another blog soon on how to get facts into your brain and keep them there) but it's the application that actually helps you grow as a person and as a learner.
If you are having trouble getting into one of your set texts, go and read something else for a bit. If you find Jekyll and Hyde tricky, try one of Stevenson's other books: Treasure Island for example. If you like it and want something else on a similar theme, try Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf. If you are studying the Civil Rights movement in the USA, go and read Malcolm X's autobiography. If you are following the C20th Britain course, get your free 7 days of Britbox and watch some Spitting Image. Now is the time to find the JOY in learning and to remember that in comes in a number of forms. Don't stop doing what you need to be doing but look for the bits that inspire you. And if you can't think of any aspect that gets you excited, drop me a line and I'll suggest a book or a line of research to get you engaged again.
I don't know about you but I am a state (see photo). I haven't had a haircut for a year and I have fully embraced the pyjama chic of 2020. None of us are having our best year. But we beat on, boats against the current* and in doing so we grow the strength, resilience and wisdom that is only achieved in adversity. And that's a damn sight more useful that a handful of numbers and letters.
(*With apologies to F Scott Fitzgerald)