They say everyone remembers the day of their exam results. A Levels, GCSEs, O Levels for us oldies... Euphoria, disbelief, pride, frustration, despair: whatever it was for you, and whether the tears you tried to deny were of delight or tragedy.
Exam results are big news, these days, with cameras out for the local press. Photogenic top achievers leap in the air, clutching their results slips. There are selfies and hugs and tears. "OMG I just like, so can't believe I did it, it's like, so amazing?"
I don't mean to be cynical. I think I'm just exhausted. Teachers live results days over and over again, year after year. Our year's work seems to be judged by how our classes do. Schools are judged against one another and in terms of national averages; teachers' classes are lined up against one another, and there's that uncomfortable feeling that your work is being compared to that of your friends in adjoining classrooms. My memories of my own results days are mixed. If I were young now, I'd say, 'hashtag perfectionist (sad face)'. Lifelong performance anxiety gets added to the pressures set by government departments and inspectors, who seem endlessly optimistic that every school, and every teacher, will be so outstanding that we'll all surpass national averages. Additional Mathematics was my worst grade, all those years ago, but even I can figure out that not everybody can be above the average. Demanding it is just mean!
It's odd, being a teacher on results days. You have that sick feeling in your stomach. Your sleep was probably broken. You probably previewed all sorts of grades in your dreams. You care: deeply, or if you don't, you're probably not doing things quite right. As I write this, on GCSE results morning, I'm exchanging texts with colleagues and teaching friends, just as I imagine our students are feverishly texting one another with their news. There are words of consolation and resolution for the year ahead, though mostly it's celebration today, as our classes have made us proud.
And yet, somehow, teachers seem to get blamed for disappointing results with the credit for the best results going entirely to their students. The thought of photographers taking shots of delighted teachers leaping in the air outside their schools, reading glasses and sensible cardigans flying in all directions, is so ridiculous that it's utterly delightful. I wouldn't take the credit away from the students for one second. There's something inspiring and wonderful about their optimism and promise: as a weary, ageing teacher, it's wonderful to see that youthful exuberance, especially when you wonder whether all your work is doing any good. The dispiriting thing is the relentless 'teacher bashing' in the media and elsewhere, with schools and teachers blamed for any disappointing grades. Surely results are the product of partnership: students, parents, families, teachers, schools. Why would only the teachers get the blame if things don't go quite right? The logic is flawed; teachers should be straightening those sensible cardigans proudly rather than pulling them protectively around them as though to block out a particularly nasty draught...
The 'Back to School' signs in the shops used to hit me with dread in the pit of the stomach when I was young. They do the same thing now. It doesn't help that the displays of stationery, satchels and new uniforms appear just before the Summer holidays begin, just as the first Christmas cards have begun appearing in the shops as Summer draws to a close. Most days, I enjoy teaching, and even at dark moments I struggle to think of anything else that would feel like a 'fit'. There's something life-affirming about the progress of students from late childhood to early adulthood through the secondary school years, and the promise and opportunity in an aura around everything they do. The longer I spend in teaching, the more I hope that my students are keeping me young. I hope I'll always enjoy their humour and aspiration.
So why the dread of going back to school? It's not just the anticipation of exhaustion, of being busy, of evenings lost to marking and sleep lost to worry. Everyone has to work. Maybe if teachers could stop being blamed completely for the bad news, and start getting a little of the credit for the good news, we could view those displays of sparkling new stationery, shoes and satchels with the delight that they deserve. We could wish each other Happy New School Year with optimism and not fear. We could believe in our own successes and work to remedy the shortfall with confidence.
What a wonderful world that would be.