The temperatures are rising, we are entering an area of high pressure, and everyone is feeling the heat. And the weather is nice too, because it is, of course, exam season.
If you have children of a certain age you will already be aware of the rising incidence of door slams, dramatic sighs, and accusations that other members of the household are creating a disturbance. It doesn’t matter if that disturbance is a buzzing fly, washing machine in spin cycle, or younger sibling eating an apple too noisily, everything is as loud as a jet engine and twice as annoying to the stressed-out student. Of course, it’s hard not to feel empathy for them — we all remember what school exams felt like because the experience is burned onto our psyches.
I should be grateful that the eldest son is putting any work in for his first-year exams. After the lukewarm feedback I received at his first parent-teacher meeting, it could have gone either way — he could have just plodded along, not really working at all. But he didn’t. He took the feedback quite badly as it happens, and started to realise that primary school rules did not apply here; he couldn’t just do the homework and hope for the best.
His results from his Christmas exams ranged from okay-ish to a fail or two. He got really embarrassed when his older sister — who, it should be pointed out, we had to beg to remain in school from fourth year on — ridiculed him for failing an exam in first year.
After that he would discreetly tell me about his bad results privately and tell me not to tell anyone, which obviously I said I would and then scuttled off and told my wife like the loving grass I am. Neither she nor I really said much about it to him, but we made the point that it was disappointing for him, because he knows he could do better.
It’s a fine balance to strike with students — how do you let them know they are doing this for themselves? That their motivation should be to give it their best shot, rather than to simply avoid furrowing of parental brows?
But something trickled through to him — he started studying a few weeks ago and spent a good chunk of the last few weekends drilling the info into himself, writing page after page. He didn’t take a vow of silence and spend 24 hours a day scribbling in a vellum scroll. He would do two hour sessions and then break for a while and go back to it, but my wife and I were both impressed. We’d stick our heads in once in a while to make sure he was still working and not asleep or on his phone, and for the most part he was.
Whether it will all pay off remains to be seen, and there will always be some subjects that we just don’t get, and in his case, it appears to be art. He likes art as a concept and we occasionally go to exhibitions together, but he feels his practical art skills aren’t up to scratch. In other words, he thinks he can’t draw, and he is tired of feeling like a failure. I thought art would be a bit of a lark for him, a break from the ‘real’ subjects, but that is because for me it was. I was only a mediocre artist, not one of those Texaco art competition kids whose stunning works take the breath away. I was okay, but most importantly, I was better than most of the class (said class would probably dispute this claim, but then everyone’s a critic).
My son isn’t me though, and he feels he is at the bottom of the class in terms of artistic ability. So we are now trying to figure out where we go from here.
Perhaps he will take up painting during the long summer months ahead, and knock us all out with his watercolour landscapes of the various nettle patches that constitute the garden, or his oil portraits of the wheelie bins at the back of the house, but we can figure that out once we get through the exams without too many doors — or young minds — being dislocated from their hinges.