Friday's child

24th September 1999 at 01:00
Cassandra Hilland on . . . what it's like to be a teenage workaholic

When teachers first en-counter Jeanne, they are impressed by her energy. To Jeanne, all jobs are worth doing properly. Jeanne likes to push herself, to see how hard she can work. For her, it's an intellectual game - a game she usually wins. Nothing makes her happier than getting her work in a day earlier, completing an extra question, making a few extra notes.

She pushes herself just as hard outside the classroom too. After all, if you're going to college, you should get the most out of it. Of course she's going to carry on attending all four societies she signed up to in September. So what if there wasn't much of a drama club when she joined? Now she's set up her own! She plays tennis for the county and practises most days after college. Charities are another great challenge: Comic Relief, Rag Week - so many ways to raise money! Well you have to get involved, don't you? Jeanne's enthusiasm is infectious, and inspires others to push themselves.

Even though her marks are good, Jeanne does worry about her heavy workload. Everything's done in so much more detail now. Fifteen taught hours per week plus 15 at home - it seems so much. As the term progresses, Jeanne finds it harder to complete work to her own special standards, to make it to all the societies and fit in a social life as well. Still, if she does tennis after school and skips lunch on Monday she can keep on top of her work, make it to drama and still do tennis in the evenings. Nothing she can't handle.

Suddenly end-of-year-exams loom. She panics. How can they expect her to do any more work? After all, she's got modular exams just before - they count towards her final grade - but these other exams are important too, aren't they? How should she prioritise?

Reluctantly, she abandons the societies. The tennis falls by the wayside. She makes page after page of revision notes. She constructs a punishing revision timetable. Subject slots are marked in primary colours. Breaks and meals are in secondary colours. "Sleep and socialising" are marked in grey. This makes her feel better. The grey blocks are worryingly small.

All Jeanne thinks about now are topics and test results. Nervous questioning replaces friendly enthusiasm. She asks for past papers, but never hands back completed ones to be marked. Things are getting a bit out of hand. She sets herself impossible targets. Poor marks knock her back for days. She mistakes constructive criticism for a personal attack. This pale, stressed girl is a shadow of the lively enthusiast who arrived in September. No surprise that she doesn't perform as well in the exams as she had hoped. She's burnt out. She couldn't remember all the things she thought she'd learned. She's realised too late the importance of time off.

Jeanne flunked not because she didn't know enough, but because she had pushed herself too hard. Hopefully, she'll avoid the same pitfalls next year. But she has learned a valuable lesson. You can fail by doing too much as well as too little.

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