The BBC published a story this morning titled, “Poor exam grades crush young people’s ambition, study says”.
I can relate to this story. Or at least the title; the rest of the story goes in to detail about how problems at home have negative impacts on academic performance. I was quite lucky in that regard; both my parents were hugely supportive of doing well in school. But the emotional impact of not doing well on an exam, I don’t think parents can really help or prepare you for that.
When I was 15-years-old I moved to the US from Canada. I was put in Algebra 2a and expected to pass it. On the first day I felt overwhelmed and decided the next morning I would report to the teacher for extra help before class (the school had a policy that every teacher had to be available for 45 minutes before school started for extra tutoring).
When I sat down with the teacher and struggled with the first equation he turned to me and said very matter-of-factly, “you’re going to fail my class”. That was it. I stopped going for extra help and mentally checked-out. I was the only student he let sleep in the class. At the end of the semester I failed his class.
I spoke to the guidance councilor who then put me in the Algebra IIa class for students with learning disabilities, which at the time felt like a smack in the face. It was computer-based (late ’90s, very basic animations, CRT monitors, same hot stuffy classroom though) and the pace was set by the individual student. The teacher would do a 10-15 minute lesson at the start of class and the rest of the time would be up to the student to fill. I flourished in this environment and got an A-.
This had two effects:
1) The confidence I lost in my ability to do math was re-instated;
2) I no longer held a stigma about learning disabilities.
But I still resent that teacher (and his horrible mustache) for not encouraging or pushing me. He gave up before I did, which was more crushing than failing an exam. Knowing that it wasn’t just me but my teacher as well who had lost hope could have been detrimental to my learning. I consider myself lucky to have been at a school where the rest of the faculty were ace teachers wholly committed to teaching students who wanted to learn. I wonder how many students fall through this crack.