I went round to my mum’s place today and picked up a bag full of school work and reports. I’ve read it through and deposited most in the recycling. TBH, most of it was exercise books of neat writing covered in ticks and reports that said I was clever and good. All a bit sick making! I kept three things.
The first is a report from what is now called year three, but which was my last year in something called first school. I went through the system during a brief period when they chopped the years about a bit round here. I kept this because it is dated July 1979 and, though it is very brief, it contains this:
Language – Good at all aspects of this subject, but writes particularly interesting stories.
It pleases me that twenty nine years ago, at the age of eight, I was doing something that I still love to do today. I guess it’s in deep.
The second is my English book from what is now called year seven, but which was my last year in middle school. That year I had a teacher who clashed with my emerging political awareness. He had a large union flag on the classroom wall and a poster of Churchill. History with him involved copying down accounts of battles and weaponry and so on! In English, I wrote a lot of opinionated pieces and he hated them! In the back of the book is an essay called “To make a change in the country”. I can remember taking a deep breath and writing a piece that advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was 1983 and my family were very involved in local CND activities. I didn’t do a bad job. I answered the deterrence argument and talked about the money spent on weaponry that could save starving people and included stats about the proportion of the population against the placing of US cruise missiles on UK soil. He gave me a B minus and a page of rant about how I wouldn’t like to live under a totalitarian regime! I’ve kept that to remind me of the power of a teacher and the start of my frustrations in the system.
The third thing I have kept is the front page of my school report for 1985/6 – the school year that followed my sister’s death and the year in which I came to recognise my lesbianism. That was one of the hardest years of my life. I have blogged before about my feelings in school at that time. I’m not exaggerating to say that I was clinging on at times – counting minutes, seconds, until the school day ended. I was keeping my head low and often despairing. My form tutor had this to day about me,
“Annalie is a quiet, hardworking member of the form. Always neatly dressed.”
So, there we are. I might have been falling apart inside but at least I was neatly dressed!
My head of year noted,
“Attendance could certainly be improved”.
Actually, it couldn’t be improved and no-one ever took the time to ask me why I was ill so much – what was going on. I did have one teacher who supported me wonderfully but this was all done on a personal basis – in spite of the system. She is someone I count as a friend forever. But I’ve kept that page as a reminder of being in a bad place – a place where I had no control over my day to day life and where I felt battered by the end of every day. I never want to be in such a place again.
Most of my old school work and reports reminded me of what it was to be so approved! So many pats on the head... Why didn’t they help me more when times were hard? Why did they mean so little inside? I guess because they weren’t for the real me. They were for the facade.
I had some good teachers along the way and some who were kind people. When my maths teacher said I deserved an “A in my O level as few he had ever taught” I realise now that he wasn’t talking about the way I’d applied myself to maths, but the way I’d struggled to get through the last two years of school.
There’s nothing in those teenage reports that touches the reality of how I was living. The gobbing and shoving and bra strap tugging that was the reality of every lesson change. The foul, violent language littered with homophobia and shaming sexual comments. The horror of the showers and the baying mob that pursued anyone ‘different’. There’s no mention of that in my secondary school reports and so I think I’ll chuck them in the recycling. Just in case I start believing in the fiction of that neatly dressed girl who was “working hard”.