A-Levels, Asian expectations, bad grades, education, English Literature, family pressure, good grades, grades, inspiring teacher, Julia Roberts, Miss Watson, Mona Lisa Smile, pass, pressure, reading, results day, student, students, success, university
So I’m back at the old college, working for a little while till the academic term begins. And I’m part of another team which means I was involved with the organisation of the A-Level results on Thu 14th Aug and will be for the GCSE results day on Thu 21st Aug! I had the chance to meet with a lot of my ex-mentees that day, from both AS and A2, and I had more surprises awaiting me than I expected.
The I’m-happy-and-sad-student: I got the chance to speak to my A2 ex-mentee who’s doing the same degree as me. He had passed his subjects and got into the university of his choice, but was not happy with his English Lit grade. I reassured him that although he’s disappointed, the fact that he got in meant the uni liked his creative writing portfolio enough and still wanted him on the course. It took me back to when I saw my own English Lit A-Level grade and cried because I had expected a better one 😦 I was over the moon for him and hoped he didn’t dwell on the grade too much. Stuff like that just eats away at you and results in nothing but self doubt and decrease in confidence.
The I’m-nervous-student: Another of my students stopped me asked if I could open her results paper for her, yet asked that I not tell her what she achieved. But then she kept squealing with fear every time I tried to open the envelope because she kept changing her mind about whether I should see it or not. After 3mins of going back and forth I snatched it from her and looked at her grades.
Student S: How are they? Is it bad?
Me: No, actually. You passed them all.
Student S: Really?!! Ok. What did I do really good in?
Me: 2 subjects. Wanna know which ones?
Student S: No no. Actually…yeah. But-
Me: Oh good god! [pause to raise my eyebrows at her] You did well in Eng Lit and Psych. C’s!
Student S: What?! Really?! YAY!…and what did I do bad in?
Me: Government & Politics. But D is a pass.
This is a repeating AS student who failed her 1st attempt at AS due to a bucket load of issues. So for her to have passed a 2nd time round with better grades and with a different set of subjects she actually enjoys, I was very proud of her ^_^
The I’m-living-my parents-dream-students: Then later in the day came a point where I had to deal with the AS students and their progression into the next year. Again, I had the chance to see quite a few of my ex-mentees and unfortunately I mostly saw bad grades and disappointed faces. I had many students who wanted to either repeat the year, or students who failed a subject and wanted to drop it, BUT would have to go home and ask their parents if they could drop that subject because they had been forced by them to choose it O_O
I couldn’t help but get really angry. And although I had more than 100 students in the queue, I couldn’t help but spend a little more time with these poor kids to advise them. But I was taking a risk I’m sure it doesn’t just exist in Asian culture, but I found that the students who had similar concerns where Asian students who were forced to take a subject because their parents had their own dreams set out for them. I was careful yet very clear in explaining this to them: at the end of the day they would be the one studying and then sitting the exams. Therefore, getting an E grade in the subject and still thinking about carrying it on to please their parents, but be set to fail it anyway in the long run, is not ideal.
This WAS risky because not everyone has understanding parents and not every student is brave enough to challenge them. I realised I was pulling a Miss Watson, a character played by Julia Roberts in the film Mona Lisa Smile (2003). She was an art teacher in the 1950’s who laughed at convention and pushed her female students to not live life conforming and pleasing their parents by sacrificing their own happiness. Now, I sound really pompous I know, but this is one of my favourite films in the ‘inspiring teacher helps students to rebel‘ genre, and I felt like I helped the students in at least seeing that they can have other options apart from their parents hopes & dreams. This is sensitive stuff and advice like this can either give courage to the student to stand up for themselves, or lead to problems behind closed doors that I won’t ever know. But I don’t regret it! And I hope that I was able to make a positive difference, however small it may be.
I was lucky enough to have parents who, after some persuading to begin with (I have to admit!), allowed me to take whatever subject pleased me. I too had to battle with family expectations and stereotypes to do my A Levels and degree. Although there was a small rise in the number of Muslim Asians taking a BA subject as a degree, it was difficult at first for my folks to accept that I wouldn’t be doing Law or Medicine. And so on that day, I was filled with feelings of nostalgia of my own college days, and with great concern over the pressure students have to succeed, whether to meet to the expectations of others or their own.