Is it just me or did anyone else spend the months leading up to their Leaving Cert praying for it to be cancelled somehow?
I remember blowing out the candles on my 18th birthday cake and wishing for some celestial intervention to stop the exams from happening. My birthday is in April, so I reckoned the gods had just enough time to get their cancellation ducks in a row to make my wish come true.
They didn't. I sat my first Leaving Cert exam in 2005 with a belly full of Pharmaton because my mother must have thought a vitamin and mineral deficiency were the things that tripped me up in my pre-exams. I wrote so much in that first exam that my middle finger had a massive welt and a substantial dent by 5pm. To this day, that finger resembles something a child created with clay.
Now that the Leaving Cert has actually been cancelled for swathes of students I find myself like Garth Brooks, thanking god for unanswered prayers. The only great thing about Leaving Cert is the very fact that it is anonymous and you get to be judged on your exam performance and not how many times you showed up late to class, swung on your chair, wore the wrong shirt or didn't have your tie in a tight enough knot.
I was a different student to different teachers.
I knew how to make my friends laugh by pushing the boundaries with teachers. I knew that volunteering to read aloud would get me brownie points with some teachers but I'd also put on a funny voice or deliberately mispronounce a word to entertain the girls. I was good most of the time and always well behaved when it mattered, so teachers overlooked the odd offence. Maybe they knew that my acting up was more a way to make friends than be a difficult student. It's likely, if I had been marked by my teachers, I would have faired OK.
Is that the case across the board though?
My friend Laura had a maths teacher whom she claims absolutely hated her. More than 20 years on, Laura is convinced that if this man were deciding her results she'd be goosed.
She says he spent literal months blatantly ignoring her requests to be taught. When Laura had a question, he would do this pantomime sway on his tiptoes to look behind Laura's raised hand while saying, "No one has any questions, no?" He'd pretend not to hear Laura in class despite being able to hear the clicks of a Nokia keypad if someone down the back was trying to send a sneaky text. Apparently he had the creepiest grin whenever he'd hand Laura back a test - big red circles like acne across the first page.
I hate the idea of a teacher's pettiness impacting a child's future, so I argued with Laura that surely teachers would be able to put aside their personal grievances to give fair grades.
Laura was unconvinced. She also argued that her maths teacher wouldn't have had enough experience of her to fairly guess her deserved grade.
I come from a small town. Two of my teachers were best friends. I was a grade-A student for one of them but never fully took part in the other's class. I had a valid excuse that made me the envy of lots of other students, who also hated the more participatory classes. PE, drama, dance, art and choir each had a cohort of students who'd kill to get out of them: there were no showers in our school so if you worked up your heart-rate doing jumping jacks, modelling clay, doing The Siege of Ennis or playing one of the Von Trapps in rehearsal, you had to stew in your own cardiovascular juices for the rest of the day.
I didn't have to congeal in my own stale sweat and I always had the feeling that it profoundly annoyed one of my teachers.
I know how I adopt my best friend's resentments - I once boycotted a restaurant because they double-charged The Boy Housemate for his lunch. I have enemies I've never met because they've upset people I love.
Would my teachers have been the same? Would one who resented me have influenced another? Teachers are human and asking them to put aside years of built-up opinions, good and bad, to impartially grade students in an exam that sets them on a path towards their future is fair on neither party.
I know it's a pandemic, and decisions have to be made. I just hope we can listen to those students who are upset.
Can we have compassion and understand that for all the stress and sleepless nights, sometimes not doing an exam can be more stressful than doing it?
Sunday Indo Life Magazine