Friday, 19 August 2011

Exam results days

were never happy days in our family. As "the teachers' kids" we were expected to set an example.
My mother was particularly concerned by this. It did not matter whether it was a quick mental arithmetic test or a major examination. We had, at very least, to pass and we were expected to do much better than that - full marks for mental arithmetic please! If we failed to reach expectations we were subjected to "extra homework".
My parents saw nothing wrong in this. They believed we could do it. We just had to do the work.
My siblings and I were given "times-table" and "spelling" tests at the meal table. It was one way of ensuring we were learning what we were supposed to be learning. I am not sure why but I have one sister who still cannot spell, indeed her spelling is atrocious.
Of course I did rather badly all the way through school. I never "reached my full potential". It had nothing to do with not doing the work or not being able to do the work. Even when I managed to get every mental arithmetic problem correct I would be given less than ten out of ten for poor handwriting.
Every afternoon I was expected to do "writing practice" for half an hour. My mother insisted on this. Did she genuinely believe that all she needed to do was ensure I was constantly humiliated and my handwriting would magically improve? I often wonder now what my teachers actually thought of her demands. It must have been obvious to them that my problems were due to my physical disability and nothing to do with "not trying". My mother always insisted I was "not trying". I think she genuinely needed to believe that. It prevented her from feeling guilty.
I remember getting my first external examination results. I knew I had worked hard and done the best I could. I also knew they would not be good. They should have been good, perhaps even very good. I did not fail but I came as close to failing as you can and still get a pass. There was of course an absolute uproar and I was told it was my fault. Well yes it was in a way. I simply had not managed to get enough down on paper. What I did get down I probably got right. I suspect the examiners were smart enough to realise there was a problem and they gave me all they could give me... a bare pass. It was not really encouraging.
I look around now at students doing their examinations. Students in the UK got their A level results this week. O levels come out next week. I know a number of people who have family members of that age. So far, most of them have met expectations, their own and those of other people. That is not to say they have all realised their dreams but they know they have done their best and their results reflect that.
This afternoon the Whirlwind will come in with her results for the week. She works hard at school and rarely slips up. She does not always get full marks but she is in the top group of her form. She will sometimes get upset when she does not get marks she believes she deserves but she knows she is a good student. She also knows that she can go on being a good student if she does the work. Her results reflect that. I hope she can remember it when she reaches her teen age years but her father will not demand impossible results and neither will I.
I think that is what really matters. Expectations are important. Doing the best you can is important. Trying to achieve the impossible is not.
I managed to get there in the end but I had to do it by myself. Some people would probably say "it made you a better person". I doubt that. I might have been a better person and done things differently with encouragement. I think everyone needs some of that.
So, if you know someone growing up and into their O levels, their A levels, their HSC, college entrance or matriculation - encourage them, expect something from them and make that expectation the best they can realistically do. Please do not ask them to try and achieve the impossible. We can all do better than that.


Sheep Rustler said...

Oh can I identify with this! Nothing was ever good enough for my father - if I got an A, why wasn't it an A+, if it was an A+ he would just grunt. We are ever so careful not to be like that with our kids. We encourage them to perform as well as possible within the various constraints they may have , praise results that are good for them, encourage anything that might make studying a particular subject easier or more rewarding, and encourage them to improve on their own performances over time, not against any artificial standard. And they both achieve well, in some cases extrememly well, and are proud of their achievements.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to this as well. My parents were positively "Victorian" in their outlook. I regularly got "the strap" for poor marks. Never did any good. Bob C-S

JO said...

This must ring bells for so many people. When test marks and exam results were more important then enjoying being together - simply loving each other. Children feeling not-good-enough because they couldn't spell. Yes, children need encouragement - but first must come the loving.

chandra said...

Oh! you brought back my memories! days when i was waiting for my results and comparing with my friends!

Frances said...

"The second shift" as Peter Goldsworthy calls it, when teachers, mothers especially, who are also parents come home.
Emotionally drained,fed up with children, fed up with correct procedures, fed up with children's failures to reach certain standards that adults set.
And, for heavens sake, if they were like my mother, they then had to start to peel the vegetables and turn out not only some kind of main course, but a pud. as well, whether it was jam roly poly or baked custard. And see that the beds were made, the floors cleaned, clothes darned,laundered, ironed and the cat fed. Actually my mother also made marmalade and jam and preserved eggs, peaches and plums. Did I mention that she kept a cow? And raised chickens?
How did she ever find "me" time? Not possible.

Men - and I absolutely adore both my father and his memory - had few or none of these domestic duties. These few words just hint at the emotional, physical and intellectual freedom given to them by their wives' assuming all of the above duties, as they did at the time.
My oldest sister worked hard because she was a "good" girl. My next sister worked hard because she wanted to please my mother. I did no homework or study at all during high school because I resented that her interest was not in me at all, but in my supposed "intelligence", and therefore in some reflected glory upon herself. (I still did better in the LC than John Howard). I did not want to please her: defuse her by passing, that's all, and so that is what I did.

We all turned out pretty much the same.
That your mother turned her difficulties into harshness towards her own child seems...well, you make the judgement.