To the teacher who told me I was stupid... | You're not from round here.

Friday, 18 July 2014

To the teacher who told me I was stupid...

I was 13 and sitting in your History class when it happened. It was probably just a throwaway comment to you, but it changed my life. You told me, in front of an entire class of girls, that I was stupid. You made me believe I was stupid. From then on, I didn't work hard at school, well, not in the subjects I wasn't good at. I figured that there was no point, seeing as I was stupid. Perhaps I was. I definitely wasn't the brightest girl in the room, but I had passed the same entrance exams as everyone else, and I wore the same uniform. 

I left that school a year later, with absolutely no confidence academically. The new school tried their hardest to get me through my GCSE's, to nurture me and make me feel like I was the same as everyone else. It was too late though, the damage had been done. I didn't believe in myself, so why would I believe what others were saying about me? I left school at 16 with fairly mediocre GCSE's and an urge to work hard in whatever job I could find. I did work hard, and, along with a bit of luck, it paid off. Two years later, at the age of 18, I started working at the BBC in my dream job as a broadcast assistant, and then as an assistant producer in sports news.

I did well in my job. I worked hard. But I doubted myself, my ability, my intelligence. I started doing an English Literature A-level at college in my spare time. I did a two year course in one year and did well. At work I wasn't assertive enough, not willing enough to suck up to people or to say "look at me, look what I can do and what I am doing, look at the training I have put in place or the interviews I have arranged". In the industry I was in, others were only too keen to jump in and claim the credit. I missed out. When we moved from London to Yorkshire, I commuted for a while, but then got a job in a prison working as an administrator. A huge change from my previous role, but I really enjoyed it. I gained confidence working with a colleague who pointed out to others what I was doing well. I did another A-level, this time in Law, and again did well. I still didn't believe in myself.

Fast forward six years and I started temping in a hospital as a medical secretary. I was good at it and worked for a consultant who believed in me. He wanted me to push myself. To see what I could achieve. I started a degree with the Open University in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I did the first two years, in between being pregnant, having babies and working full time. I did well. I got good grades and it felt good. When I was pregnant with my second child, working full time and looking after an 18 month old, I realised I couldn't do it any more. I didn't have the strength, either mentally or physically to carry on. So I quit the degree. The consultant didn't give in though, he told me to apply for full time university.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. My salary wouldn't cover the cost of childcare, and we would get help with our childcare once I started the course. I applied to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics and was offered unconditional places in two different universities, York and Lancaster. I chose Lancaster and, when my daughter was six months old and I was 29 years old, I started university full-time.

I have adored university. I realised in second year that I love learning. Pushing myself, learning new boundaries, realising I could achieve good grades if I worked hard enough. It's been a tough three years. On top of the university workload I have had two children to look after and we have dealt with my dad having a heart attack, my husband break his toe, elbow and seriously damage his knee, my grandma being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I did it though. I worked hard, pushed myself to limits I didn't know I had and I got a 2:1. I am proud of myself. I am proud of my family for supporting me and being there whenever I needed them. This week I graduated. One of the most surreal moments of my life. Me, the stupid girl, graduating with a 2:1 in PPE from a top ten university. I did it!

You know what? You shouldn't have told a 13 year old girl that she was stupid. Least of all in front of an entire class. Your comment damaged me more than you can ever know. Even now, even with all I have achieved, there is still a niggle in the back of my mind. A little voice which tells me I won't be able to do it, that I'm not clever enough, not good enough. I am still fighting the feeling which you started twenty years ago. Whilst I wouldn't change my life, I am finally beginning to realise that I am not in fact stupid. I shouldn't have wrestled with this for such a huge part of my life. If there are any other teachers out there, please realise that what you say can have a huge impact on your students.

PPE graduate


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