The End of One Chapter leads on to a New One

I know things are hugely different this year, but the sentiment remains.
💙💙💙💙💙💙💙

Although it is many moons ago, Mammy remembers getting her Leaving Cert Results.

Mammy was certain that the contents of the little brown envelope were going to change her life. Had Mammy’s life REALLY depended on the contents of that little brown envelope, quite frankly, I’d be living an utterly dreadful, mediocre and half-arsed attempt at one. 😂

Because the results printed on my little scrap of yellow paper were quite awful, if I’m very honest.

The only mark I remember (or tell anyone about!) was my A1 in Honours English. Go figure.

As for the rest of them? I’d say the examiners only passed me so that they wouldn’t have to read my verbal diahorrea again the following year. 😂I’m not exaggerating either.

But the other grades didn’t matter. The A in English was all that mattered to me, both then AND today. Yes, I got into college, but not until I had spent a week back in the brown uniform 😣😣 convincing myself that I needed to repeat the Leaving Cert.

It wasn’t until the second round offers and a trip to meet (attack😛) the Dean of the English Department in Coleraine, that I finally got my place on the degree course. (I might have only been 17, but I was a stroppy one!😂)

English was all I loved. It was all that I wanted to study and, as the little brown envelope told me, it was apparently all that I was good at… All that I was good at THEN.

At 17.

As it turns out, I’m good at a whole load of things.

The Big LC recognised my ability to understand Shakespeare and write stories off the top of my head, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) know how strong I was at things like organisation, being a friend, laughing or leading.

So I was crap at French. Biology for me ended after the section on photosynthesis. But although my maths grade was dismal, I challenge you to find ANYONE who can work out a % as quickly as me when I see the word “SALE”. 😂😂

So there.

Now, over 20 years on, I’m an English teacher. I’m a writer and I’m a businesswoman. I’m a whole lot of things that that little piece of paper could NEVER have predicted me to be.

Our young people are incredible. And no class before has ever been tested like our class of 2020.

These young adults are like no others before them. They have had a LOT going on…

They have given their ALL for 2 years, and didn’t get to sit the papers. This will never be understood fully by the rest of us.

Some of them are dealing with trying to live up to expectations that might be unrealistic.

They were playing the match of their lives, and the goalposts not only changed…they disappeared.

Today is the biggest day in many of their lives to date.

Despite what it is inflated to be, it is NOT the most important piece of paper in the world.

Yes, the letters and numbers inside it will have an immediate effect.

Yes, some doors will open and yes, some doors will close, but what is written on the page does not define them.

NO assessment can fully know our children. It can’t measure the whole person.

It doesn’t see their kindness.
It can’t recognise their wit or humour.
It doesn’t measure their ability to change things.
It can’t recognise their skills as motivators, or thinkers, or makers, or doers.
It does not define them, nor should it.

And it certainly can’t understand or fully reflect the strength, resilience and bravery required to face final year in a global pandemic.

Be proud, because regardless of what is on that page, your children have come through the most trying end to school life imaginable…and we must remind them that they CAN do whatever they want.

Because WE know what they can be.

There are ALWAYS options and sometimes, the path that they are so determined to be the ONLY one for them right now, was never the right one for them…it usually takes a few years for them to realise that however.

But they will. 💕

So in the meantime, tell them how brilliant they are. And leave them under NO illusion that no matter what words and letters are on that piece of paper, that you are and will always be proud of them and that you will help them to get to where they want to go, may it be straight through the college door or in a longer, roundabout way.

But all roads lead ahead. And this long chapter is finally over. It’s time for the next one.

Today, I send love to all of the young people (especially my own Babbies😘😘) and to all you exam parents who await the results today.

And remember, those numbers do NOT hold the key to their future. They hold that key already.

It’s right inside them.

And no piece of paper or words on a screen can change that.

M XXX

The Road NEVER BEFORE Taken…

Every year, I teach Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, whether it’s on the course or not.

I love it. And I love passing his wisdom on to my students. Sometimes, the hardest decision is the best one to make. The obvious, “easier” route may be more appealing; safer even, and yet those who took the road less travelled, will always in hindsight, confirm that it was the right road to take.

I love to use it as an encouragement to my students that they shouldn’t always follow the crowd, that they don’t HAVE to take the road that they feel has been laid out or paved for them. That when it comes to it, they must follow their gut and trust their instincts, and that no matter which road they choose, it will carry them onwards, to somewhere.

And yet this year, for the class of 2020, I cannot use this as I always do. Because this particular class group are not in control of their choices as they should have been. They have all been directed towards a new road; a road NEVER taken by any of us before them.

“knowing how way leads on to way…”

And unfortunately, the lay of the land means that there is no safe or usual road for them to pass through the end of school and on to the next stage of their journey.

It’s new and unchartered territory for them, for their parents and for all staff in the schools they attended.

And yet… this time next year, they WILL have travelled this new road. It will have brought them to their next destination.

A year from now, they will have moved through the current chaos and will be looking back on this time, glad that it has passed and no longer stressed by the situation.

Some of them will be working, or in college, or at university; physically or virtually…who knows? They might still be at home, having taken a year out, waiting for the course they plan to do to start, excited and ready to begin the next stage of their lives.

And while there is still uncertainty for our Leaving Cert students, and none of us can know where their roads will take them, this is not new. This uncertainty is the one thing that they ARE getting to experience like every other LC group before them.

And yet, for all of them, in a few months time, that uncertainty will have passed and they will be travelling on the next road of their journey. They will not still be standing at the crossroads wondering which road to take.

The road onto which our young adults are stepping, is new. None of us have been through it. So really, none of us are in a position to tell them how they should feel or how it will go.

I used to always tell mine “You’ll be fine, just like everyone who has done it before you.” I can’t say that this year. (Firstly, because they are not in front of me, and secondly, because they are trailblazing a new road.)

We old fogies have not been through this before them. We can not fully understand. We shouldn’t pretend to.

This group have lost much. They’ve lost their right of passage through the final weeks of school. They’ve missed their last classes with favourite teachers (and the joy of a final class with not so favourite!).

They’ve missed prizegivings. They’ve missed graduations. They’re missing their end of year celebrations; parties, masses, whatever events and celebrations that are traditional to their individual schools that they have expected and looked forward to for the past six years. For many, they’re missing the ending of 14 years together, through national school to now.

And as adults, we shouldn’t dismiss their sadness at missing these things. These losses are as important to them as our problems are to us right now.

But onwards they WILL go. And while they are indeed on a road never before taken, they will travel onwards.

To our school leavers, (especially to my own brilliant and inspirational young people) I want to wish you well. You are bright and talented and the world is yours for the taking. Trust and stay positive.

A year from now, you will look back. You will have moved on. You will be on the next stage of your journey, and while you will have travelled there on a new road, an uncertain road and a perhaps frightening road, there was a road. And you took it and it is taking you forwards.

And I truly hope that you know that wherever it has taken you, it is the road you were meant to be on.

As Frost said, “I-I took the road less travelled, And that has made all the difference.”

Schools…We’ll Sing Again

I went in to work in my classroom today.

The air was quiet…too quiet. One might say it was “dead”.

A building which usually fizzles with energy, when empty, lies in eerily quiet nothingness.

The decorations for the St Patrick’s Day that never was, and the notes on my whiteboard, are colourfully tragic reminders of how this virus lifted us out of our schools, giving no heed to sentiment or custom.

There is a calmness that made me shiver… all energy is stilled.

It’s as if the building is holding its breath…waiting.

And then, I heard a voice outside.
A familiar voice of a staff member downstairs. He didn’t know I was there. But I heard him.

And so I let go MY held breath, switched on my computer and logged in to my other world.

Then, I swung open the windows, played Musical soundtracks at full volume, and sang along as I worked.

I’m sure he heard me.

And in creating small noises, I reminded myself, and him I hope, that all it will take to reignite the energy in our beautiful cold building, is individual noises.

And individual noises, EVEN when complying with social distancing, will still build and grow into big noises; collective noises, noises which create energy.

While my first reaction was sadness at the “empty chairs at empty tables”, I think about the noises; the voices of the students who will eventually sit back on these seats, at these tables; each one a vital note in the song that is our school.

Our school is more than a building.

It’s an energy, created by the voices that combine to makes its noise; to sing its song.

And although we might be quiet right now, there is still a murmer…

A murmer that begins as soft, quiet, individual, but that will soon be together, performing once again, in harmony and syncopated rythyms.

We will sing again and these tables are only empty momentarily.

And the building will once again breathe and our air will be noisy and “awake” again.

“Awake”, not “alive”… it never died.
M x

You Hold Your Own Key

Although it is many moons ago, Mammy remembers getting her Leaving Cert Results.

Mammy was certain that the contents of the little brown envelope were going to change her life. Had Mammy’s life REALLY depended on the contents of that little brown envelope, quite frankly, I’d be living an utterly dreadful, mediocre and half-arsed attempt at one. 😂

Because the results printed on my little scrap of yellow paper were quite awful, if I’m very honest.

The only mark I remember (or tell anyone about!) was my A1 in Honours English. Go figure.

As for the rest of them? I’d say the examiners only passed me so that they wouldn’t have to read my verbal diahorrea again the following year. 😂I’m not exaggerating either.

But the other grades didn’t matter. The A in English was all that mattered to me, both then AND today. Yes, I got into college, but not until I had spent a week back in the brown uniform 😣😣 convincing myself that I needed to repeat the Leaving Cert.

It wasn’t until the second round offers and a trip to meet (attack😛) the Dean of the English Department in Coleraine, that I finally got my place on the degree course. (I might have only been 17, but I was a stroppy one!😂)

English was all I loved. It was all that I wanted to study and, as the little brown envelope told me, it was apparently all that I was good at… All that I was good at THEN.

At 17.

As it turns out, I’m good at a whole load of things.

It just so happened that I didn’t get to take Leaving Cert exams in singing, dancing, shopping or eating.

The Big LC recognised my ability to understand Shakespeare and write stories off the top of my head, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) know how strong I was at things like organisation, being a friend, laughing or leading.

So I was crap at French. Biology for me ended after the section on photosynthesis. But although my maths grade was dismal, I challenge you to find ANYONE who can work out a % as quickly as me when I see the word “SALE”. 😂😂

So there.

Now, over 20 years on, I’m an English teacher.  I’m a writer and I’m a businesswoman.  I’m a whole lot of things that that little piece of paper could NEVER have predicted me to be.

Of COURSE, as a teacher, I value the Leaving Cert.

I love teaching the course and I try my best to encourage my Babbies to give it their best shot.

But I also know that they are young adults. That they have a LOT going on. That some of them have things going on in their lives that are a WHOLE lot more important that exams. 😢

That while some of them will have given it their ALL for 2 years, on the day of the exam, it might just not happen. That some of them are dealing with trying to live up to expectations that might be unrealistic.  That some of them just haven’t yet realised their strengths or abilities in certain areas.

And sometimes, that at 18, they’re just not quite ready for the ridiculous pressure of the state exam.

For a whole load of reasons, Tuesday is a huge day for our young adults. But that little brown envelope is only that.

An envelope.

Despite what it is inflated to be, it is NOT the most important piece of paper in the world.

Yes, the letters and numbers inside it will have an immediate effect.

Yes, some doors will open and yes, some doors will close, but what is written on the page does not define them.

The Leaving Cert does NOT know our children. It doesn’t see the kindness. It doesn’t measure their ability to change things. It can’t recognise their skills as motivators, or thinkers, or makers, or doers. It does not define them, nor should it.

And as parents, yes, some of us might be disappointed for our kids on Tuesday.

But mostly we should be proud, because regardless of what is on that page, they are OUR children and they have done their best and we must remind them that they CAN do whatever they want.

Because WE know what they can be.

Untitled design (1)

There are ALWAYS options and sometimes, the path that they are so determined to be the ONLY one for them right now, was never the right one for them…it usually takes a few years for them to realise that however.

But they will. 💕

So in the meantime, tell them how brilliant they are. And leave them under NO illusion that no matter what words and letters are on that piece of paper, that you are and will always be proud of them and that you will help them to get to where they want to go, may it be straight through the college door or in a longer, roundabout way.

But all roads lead ahead. And before they know it, they won’t even remember what was printed on the page!

It might be over 20 years since I opened my little brown envelope and had my heart broken in a million pieces, but trust me, everything happens for a reason. 😇

Todayt, I send love to all of the young people (especially my own Babbies😘😘) and to all you exam parents whose minions face the brown envelope this Tuesday.

And remember, that little brown envelope does NOT hold the key to their future. They hold that key already.

It’s right inside them.

And no piece of paper can change that.

Mammy  XXX

Some Advice for Exam Parents

Exam season is upon us again.
 
It seems to come around faster and faster each year, doesn’t it?
 
If your little darlings are about to do their Junior or Leaving Certificate Examinations, here are some ideas on how you can help them.
 
1. Sleep: Seems obvious and it’s easier said than done to get teenagers to go to bed at the best of times, and yet sleep is the one thing that we need in order to function properly. Talk to your child and agree a consistent bedtime for the next 3 weeks. Agree on a cut off time for studying, no matter how much they insist that they need to do more. Agree on a cut off time for screens and insist that until the exams are over, screens should not be in bedrooms. Even the simple absence of the phone from the bedroom can do wonders for the sleep that we get.
 
2. Hydrate: Yeah yeah Yadda yadda… but again, vital. Challenge them to drink 2 litres a day. There are loads of cool bottles that help to motivate water intake now. And they all have apps on phones that can help remind them to drink water too. Dehydration leads to headaches and sluggishness; all of the things that they DON’T need at the minute.
 
3.Nutrition: The State Exams can last for up to 2 weeks for some students. If an athlete were going into a 2 week event, they’d be fuelling up their bodies in preparation for months. If your child has a balanced and varied diet already, great. Keep it up. If not, try to introduce more whole foods and more fruit and veg. Convenience snacking is a massive issue when stress and tiredness kick in. Try to have dinners pre-cooked and healthier snacks in the fridge for when they appear from their pit “staaaaaarving”. In fairness to them, the last thing they are thinking about is their food right now. But don’t make a big deal about it. Remember when they were toddlers and you conveniently had lots of healthy snacks and precooked meals in the kitchen? For the next 3 weeks, go back to that! Just maybe ease up on the purees! (AND BREAKFAST is a must. They might not be hungry, but they can’t sit a 2-3 hour exam on an empty tummy. Bananas are great for calming butterflies in the tummy.) 
 
4. Exercise: If your child has a hobby, or goes to a class each week, let them continue with it. As a teacher, I hear parents saying “Oh they’ve stopped that until after the exams”. And while yes, many need to cut back on some activities in order to study, cutting out EVERYTHING is a bad idea. Try to encourage them to do something every day, even if it is simply going for a ten minute walk. Send them to the shop. Throw them a basketball. Dust off the punchbag in the garage. Anything to get them moving for even a few minutes. Times of high stress are the times when we NEED to be able to release, may it be dancing, kicking, running or a gym class. It helps keep energy levels up.
 
5. Keep the stress levels down: And I’m not just talking about THEIRS. State Exams have a way of reducing Mums and Dads to tears. Yes, this is a big deal. Yes, the exams are important, but what is more important is that your child is alive and well and able to do the exams. Don’t dismiss the significance of these exams, but equally, don’t paint them to be the be all and end all. Their best is all that they can do and regardless of what is in the little brown envelopes at the end of the summer, life will go on and they will be ABSOLUTELY FINE!
 
6. Positivity : Rather than constantly “annoying” or “torturing” them, let them hear praise. (Because no matter what we say, they only hear nagging don’t they?) Let them hear you believe in them. Let them hear “You will be fine” or “Do your best” or “I’m proud of you.” Seems silly maybe, but trust me, so many of our teenagers are so skilled at feeling useless and crap all by themselves. Sometimes all it takes is for them to hear someone tell them they can do it.
 
7. Last minute pages: SO this is the teacher talking now. Get them to take an A4 page and for each subject, on which they write down all of the key phrases and ideas and names and keywords, dates etc., all over it, on both sides. If their teacher has things that he or she CONSTANTLY repeated in class, write those down too.
Use different coloured pens and make it bright. Laminate it when they’re done if you like. But have it that THAT PAGE is the ONLY thing they look at on the morning of the exam. I also advise that when they walk into the English paper, before they even read the questions, to jot down as many of the important terms and titles on one of the roughwork boxes or blank pages. That way, they have a go-to wordbank if they get a blank brain AND they won’t forget character names or poem titles in the heat of the exam. (Happens to the best!)
 
8. Ditch the Drama: Warn your kids of the dangers of the Drama Llama on the morning (or afternoon) of the exam. While they’ll want with their friends, so often it is the worst place they can be. Hearing “Oh I only glanced at Chapter 23 last night” or “I haven’t LOOKED at that book!” or “I am so screwed”can cause panic in an anxious child’s mind. They’re already dealing with their own anxiety and nerves. They don’t need JohnJoe or Nancy’s stresses on top of their own. Tell them to politely stay away from groups until after the exam. They are much better served by reading over their last-minute page on their own. They can chat about it as much as they want when it’s over, but being focused and quiet before the exam really does work wonders.
 
9. SPACE it out: If space allows, tell them to skip 2-3 lines between each paragraph. This allows them space to jot down anything that might come to mind as the revise over what they’ve written at the end. (And it makes life easier for the examiner if sentences aren’t written sideways up a margin. With a few subjects being corrected digitally this year, anything written outside the allocated area won’t be scanned. Remind them of this.)
 
10. Believe: While the state exams are possibly THE biggest thing in your whole family’s life right now, it is important to remind the kids that every single person who is older than them, has been through and sat through these exams. They can only do their best. Yes, they’re a huge deal, but they’re also just a bump in the road that you have to drive over to get to summer. They’re well ready and well able.
stumble
 
Life is a big long dance. We all stumble, sometimes we fall. We have parts of the routine that we’d rather skip, but it’s OUR dance. And each and every one of us has to dance our own steps.
 
I hope that exam season passes with as little stress as possible in your house. And remember that if your kids see you stressed, they stress. So even if you want to scream and tear your hair out, don’t.
 
Or at least wait until they’re in bed and then pour yourself a gin and scream in a pillow.
 
And the very best of luck to your minions.