Majority Report

My Dad has been clearing out his attic. When I went to visit him recently with my brother and sister he presented each of us with a pile of memorabilia from our childhoods. He has so much stuff that he and my Mum hoarded over the years. School excercise books, tickets and programs from concerts and plays we were in. Every school report I received between the ages of 5 and 18. It is weird to read through that stuff now and look at the terrible drawings that I must have been so proud of at the time. It’s also interesting to read my school reports because I have a daughter who is at school now and it adds an extra layer of perspective to the reports we get about her. There are some striking similarities. Lots of natural ability and raw talent but suffers from lack of effort, carelessness and lack of attention to detail.  Too chatty in class. Too easily distracted. Might benefit from being less involved in extra-curricular activities. This is a list of the extra-curricular activities that appeared on some of my reports.
  • Junior & Senior Choir
  • English National Opera (Boy Soprano)
  • French Club
  • French Horn
  • Guitar
  • Piano
  • Task Force
  • School Orchestra
  • Barnet Schools Symphony Orchestra
  • Windband
  • Librarian
  • Youth Club Leader
  • Sixth Form Council
  • Charity Concerts
  • Drama Club/School Plays
Looking at that list I think it’s a miracle I ever turned up to class let alone had the energy to be chatty.
Here are some comments from my secondary school reports (11-18 years). I don’t think I ever appreciated at the time the sense of humour some of my teachers must have had.
Albert is a real bright spark, involving himself in as much as possible. He has endless enthusiasm and social grace. He is still forgetful and at times noisy and unreliable but there has been an improvement.
Albert is a very able pupil but loses a lot of marks through carelessness. He often forgets to do his homework too! Lovely French accent though!
Excellent! What an all-round talent, wit, raconteur, literateur, surrealist, man-about-town, soft-soaper, con-artist, swindler !!!
1/A, but occasional casual performance. Perhaps he might engage a full-time agent to relieve him of the tedious details involved in being a mega-star.
Perhaps Albert would consider working with the class next term instead of helping me teach them. His work, though good, is nowhere near the standard he is capable of.
Having perjured myself with regard to the grade I do feel that Albert might a) put a cheque in the post and b) pay more attention to detail for which he has an olympian disdain.
I imagine that being Clark Kent must be very time consuming. However, if The Master of the Universe could pay a little more attenton to detail, achieve greater rigour in his preparation and presentation and produce only outstanding written assignments rather than works of genius or ambitious failures I’d be very grateful.
Albert cannot continue to rely on his natural charm and ability to write essays; there is no substitute for thorough learning.
It also brought to the fore and crystalised for me the fact that some of my teachers were just REALLY BAD teachers. It’s surprises me a little that it has taken this long for me to have enough distance from that part of my life for that realisation to be completely objective. Not only were some of them really bad teachers but they were also not particularly nice people. There were bitter, under-achievers. Vainglorious, self-important academic pseuds. Bullies and manipulators. At least one (later convicted) paedophile. Some of them really disliked children. I mean ALL children. My first year maths teacher was so limp and damp as to be virtually anonymous. Utterly incapable of showing any enthusiasm for the subject let alone instilling any in the pupils. I had never had any problem with maths before then and yet I ended my first year being labelled as weak at maths. It was a label that stuck for years.
On the other hand there were some absolutely brilliant and inspiring teachers. Most notably English, History and Music. My English teacher used to regularly lend me novels to read – not from the curriculum but just stuff he’d read that he thought I’d like. Also, music albums. He is single-handedly responsible for my love of Van Morrison. My History teacher inspired in me sufficient interest in European (esp. Russian) History and Politics to carry me on to and through a degree at the School of Slavonic & Eastern European Studies (then part of LSE now part of UCL). You can see from the activity list above how big an impact my music teacher had on me but the thing that strikes me now about him is just how hard working he must have been.
I always had this vague suspicion that what I did and didn’t achieve academically, the things I was good at or wasn’t good at, the arts/humanities path I found myself on, all these things were somehow based on a combination some inate stregths and weaknesses I had coupled with how much effort I made. I had never really given credit to how big a part was played by the the sheer, dumb luck of which teachers I ended up with. What if I’d had really crap english and history teachers and fantastic, inspiring maths and physics teachers ? Was I just lucky that the teachers I got happened to match some set of inate talents or did the talents develop as a result of the teachers I got ?
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