English teacher's open letter to year 12: "A score in an exam doesn’t define you."

Dear Year 12,

This week signals the final time you will have English as high school students. In less than two months, your examinations will be done and dusted and the next chapter of your life will begin. It will be the first of many “finals” – the final day of school, the final sports game, the final exam, and so the list goes on. It’s an incredibly exciting time!

I have no doubt that the intervening period of time will involve close to sleepless nights of study and anxiety, both before the exams and then in the period awaiting your results. I am sure many of you (hopefully all of you) will put your best foot forward and focus entirely on the exams. However, forget them for a moment. I want you to know a few things about how you’ve impacted me.

While I can’t speak for every teacher out there, I find it is virtually impossible to not become attached to some of the young people in your class. The reality is, a part of you (for me at least) leaves every year with a group of Year 12 students. Whether it’s one year or two, teachers and students spend a great deal of time together, working together to achieve a goal. Picking apart literature and discussing the issues surrounding it – and life – is a privilege.

You will leave with a little piece of me.

Listen to a teacher speak about the best and worst end-of-year gifts they’ve received from students. POST CONTINUES AFTER AUDIO.

Yes – you’ve frustrated me beyond all possible explanation sometimes. I just want you to work harder or “get it” faster…yet at the end of the day, does all that really matter?  Because now and again, you show me exactly why I’m a teacher. The penny drops and you compose an essay that is superb and gives a small insight into your potential. You say something completely and utterly insightful about a poem or a novel, I wish I could be so eloquent.

I want you to know that you are more than a number.

A score in an exam doesn’t define you. Nothing I say defines you. You define yourself.

I will not remember you any more or any less based on a score in an exam. I fear that we’ve created a system in our society that creates ridiculous amounts of stress, where teenagers’ mental health is sacrificed in the pursuit of a desired score in a set of examinations, it seemingly being the only way to true success.

Remember this – for any desired destination, not only is there a ‘Path A’ , but there is a ‘Path B’ and probably a ‘Path C’.

I hope that some of you will reflect on the days of English in my class with fondness. Some of you, I know, may never want to analyse another written text and will shudder as they remember English…at least you might remember my awful jokes and my loud socks. I hope you remember that crazy teacher, who even though he had a short temper at times, cared about you more than you will ever know and wants to hear of your successes in the future.

In the ten years I’ve been a teacher, it’s fair to say that I’ve gone through a number or roller-coasters of emotions. I’ve been for the most part extremely happy and loved the career choice, but absolutely had moments where I have been lonely and questioned my decision – I’d only be lying if I said any different. In an age where school league tables, Band 6s and everyday administration makes teachers feel like they’re metaphorically drowning, the one thing that has given me some sort of normality is the classroom. So my simple message is thank you…for educating me and making me focus on what was important. More importantly, why I chose the career I did.

Finally, I want to wish you all the best in finding your path to happiness and success – whatever that may look like for you.