Brace yourselves: this term will only get scarier

12th February 2010 at 00:00

The fallout from mock exam week is inevitable. In the aftermath, the pupils begin to realise that we were not talking rubbish when we told them that time was running out and that they really did have to do some work if they want to achieve their aspirations.

In the summer, each pupil has a one-to-one chat with the head about their future and their expectations for the exams. Those who sit regularly outside the head's office showed the better-behaved ones how to get there, the ominous route up the back staircase.

Previously, the pupils' optimism regarding what they would get in the summer had been impressive and mind-bogglingly unrealistic in equal measure. What aspirations they all had! Fame, wealth, celebrity, huge houses, fast cars and designer labels were going to be theirs apparently. When pressed as to how, they just nodded, smiled and said: "Trust me, Miss." If only.

Before the mock exams we had talked about the life changes they are facing, the decisions they have to take and the consequences. They faced their uncertain futures with a strength and optimism that impressed me. I asked if any of them would consider teaching as a profession. "Don't be daft, Miss," they shouted as they fall about laughing. "What? Have to deal with us lot all day? You must be jokin', Miss. It's not even as though you get paid for it like, is it?"

Richard returns from the head's office, gutted, and barely speaks. He aspires to be a doctor and yet his mock result at a grade D is in line with his predicted outcome for science. "You're crushin' my dreams, Miss," he tells me.

I help others write their personal statements for college. Under her hobbies section, Hannah has put that she enjoys reading. I look puzzled and enquire further, thinking I may have missed something vital about her interest in literature during English lessons. "I read that Lord of the Flies book," she replies huffily. Well, yes, but technically we all read it together in class for the exam so it doesn't really count as a "hobby". "Yeah, but it's still reading innit, Miss, and I did mostly enjoy it." Fair enough.

Others return with tales of woe from interviews for places elsewhere. Jonathan applied to do philosophy and had been spotted with his head in Plato at every available moment. In the interview, they asked him his thoughts on the connection between a duck and a rock in a pond. He had none to offer, but did tell them he had read Plato. "Plato means nothing," he was told, and returned dazed and confused.

I can sympathise with those who are feeling perplexed and as if the stuffing has been knocked out of them - I feel like that too. The build-up to the general election has seen the political parties bickering about schools and pointing to all the "failures" they can find in the system. Their claims have then been repeated by the newspapers. Teachers can expect to be collectively bashed as a profession, while individually courted simultaneously, all the way up to the spring.

But the consequence of the election will last for four years, while the consequence of the pupils' choices may last their lifetimes. For us and the students, it's time to think, to decide, and - above all - to brace ourselves.

Julie Greenhough, English teacher at an independent school in London.

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