My Student's Response

A few weeks ago, I set the students that I tutor a writing task. I'd been easing them into the Area of Study and had gotten them to write a short reflective piece on an experience of Belonging / Not Belonging in their past. (Yes, I am aware that the future AOS will be Discovery but it's too early to start them on it.)

I was expecting a whole slew of responses on adolescent cliques and alienation within high schools and to be honest, the majority I received fell into these categories. But there was one student who wrote me something that was painfully introspective and honest. He literally just came into class, handed it to me and said, "Miss after you've read it, I don't want it back." 

I'm not going to abuse his privacy and trust by uploading the response but the general gist of it was that he felt alienated from his family due to his lack of "great academic achievement". It's something he felt keenly in his younger years after seeing cousin after cousin achieve HSC marks over 95. As a junior student, he hadn't given much thought to it but now that he's entering senior years, the anxiety is slowly creeping up on him and he's worried about his future and lack of direction. 

"The thing that's holding me back is my indecisive nature. I really want to know what I am doing with myself. I want to know where I am headed. I want to find a place or to be part of something where I can belong" (Excerpt)

Each test marks a further loss of confidence for him as despite picking up his work ethic and spending more time in the library studying, there doesn't seem to be much change in results. 

The response hit me like an emotional ton of bricks. Obviously, I was humbled by the fact that a student felt comfortable enough to open up about his insecurities in an assigned class task. But even more than that, it took me right back to high school and reminded me of the crushing pressure one puts upon themselves during those years. 

I wish I could've said something to help him out, to let him know that the HSC is not the be all end all. But the truth is that teachers and ex-students used to tell me that all the time and god knows I didn't listen. Plus how do you give life advice to a student when you yourself am barely sure of your own direction? It's so much harder for him too as he feels like he's living in the shadow of his cousins, siblings and parents. My cousins were high achievers as well (doctors, dentists, radiographers) but since I knew from an early age that the science path was not for me, I never felt the need to live up to their accomplishments. 

Academic achievement is important but there is definitely an unhealthy emphasis on it, especially for people of my background and area. I felt it so acutely a couple of night ago when I was asked to give a presentation to parents at my ex-high school. Basically the purpose of it was to inform parents of the merits of the school and the various opportunities it offered. 

It didn't matter how much you talked about the school's leadership opportunities, student initiatives or acceleration programs, all the parents wanted to hear about was atar, atar, ATAR. They visibly perked up when I mentioned that four digit number and all the questions at the end consisted of things like the school's ranking and percentage of students who achieved +95 marks. It was beyond frustrating and a little bit sad - especially since I can understand why parents would be worried. 

I just wish there was a way to get parents and students to understand that academic achievement does not make a person. Rather, too much focus on this leads to undue stress and a destruction of a student's self-esteem. And what you end up with are young people who are confused, torn and a little bit lost. 

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