I recently came across a pile of old envelopes, which I’d stowed away carefully at the back of a drawer. Even after all these years, I knew exactly what they were, and I’ll admit to you that my heart sank, just the way it used to when I had to carry them home from school and deliver them to my parents.
My old school reports once had the power to either condemn or absolve me and it seems that even after all these years, they haven’t quite lost their sting. I can hardly remember what they say, but I want them to be good even though their verdict doesn’t matter all that much now.
In reality, they’re neither as good as I’d hoped, or as bad as I’d feared. It comes as something of a surprise to find that many of my teachers quite liked me – or at least they describe me as ‘likeable’, which I suppose isn’t quite the same thing but it’s close enough. One even noted that I had ‘developed a sense of humour’, which is perhaps not quite a compliment, since I was twelve at the time. Didn’t I have a sense of humour before that?
There are, of course, the comments which horrified me at the time, but now make me snort with laughter. ‘Annie struggles bravely’ (Chemistry) and ‘Good at times’ (Geography). At least they didn’t say ‘Not particularly interested’, which was closer to the mark in both cases. Games was another subject where my teachers’ enthusiasm for my progress was tempered with obvious reserve. ‘Patchy’ was one of the more succinct comments, although whether that related to my performance or my attendance is now forgotten.
But there are a few things which I can use today. One of my English teachers stated that I had a ‘sound knowledge of comma usage’ – I’m not convinced that the eds would necessarily agree with her, but it sounds promising. ‘She often resorts to day-dreaming’ was, I’m sure, intended as a reprimand but every writer knows that day-dreaming is a vital part of the job. And ‘avid reader’ is, of course, another necessity.
So, taking the good along with the bad, do these reports have all that much to say to me now? Maybe – a little. I think that the thing I can see most clearly, using the passage of time to look at them objectively, is that some of my teachers made comments which were full of insight and others made comments which were just plain wrong. And that’s taught me a lesson. The things that others say about us are sometimes helpful, and sometimes less so. It’s good to listen, but sometimes we shouldn’t define ourselves and our future by how things seem to others.
What do you think? And did your teachers get it right?