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Time has taught me self-esteem is essential

I think I need a wallow down memory lane. I need to take myself back to my callow youth and remember what I was really like. It's important, because I now can see the old teacher in me, the grumpy, grey-haired old biddy who seemed a million miles removed from the seniors back then.

The trouble is, that by your mid-50s, you have life licked. I don't care really what people think of me. I am who I am. I look back at photos of me when I was 17 and realise I was beautiful, but I didn't know that then. I can't alter the timer on the boiler, but hey, the clocks change soon.

I'm pretty confident about my intelligence and my ability to learn. Back then, my strategy was to make lists (always beginning with "Make list", so I could cross that off), tidy my desk (again), copy out notes mindlessly and then sit staring at the telephone, waiting for it to ring.

I didn't know how to learn. I remember feeling anxious and stupid and inadequate. I simply didn't know where to start. It's taken 40 years to learn that.

Fifth year should be a time of hard work, and many senior pupils are diligent and successful learners. But too many seem to have a casual approach to the serious business of learning. Computer games come before studies, and revision is always on tomorrow's list of things to do.

But I recognise the stress of the under-achievers, the panic they feel. Like me at that age, they don't really appreciate their own talent. It is easier not to start at all than to open a book and not know what to do. Being bad is easier.

So these kids fail. If we could raise their self-esteem, we could foster a more diligent approach to studies. If we could teach them how to break up the work into manageable chunks, or if we could help them believe they can succeed, we'd have more pupils reaching their potential.

Perhaps I didn't achieve all I should have at school, but I did eventually. And I suppose if I had had hindsight (that wonderful thing) back then, I would have known that grey-haired old biddies aren't as stupid as they look.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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