Inspired by this week's Post40 Bloggers Writing prompt "I hope..."
And so we come to exam season again.
No2 has 3 A Level Papers to sit and then that’s our involvement with education done with. No1 continues to take his accountancy exams but he is on a training contract with an accountancy firm, learning on the job. No2 will be off to Australia next January. He is totally not Uni shaped and currently clueless as to what to do next, so he is travelling with all the support I can throw at him (not to mention the cash I’ll probably have to throw at him whilst he’s doing it).
*Screen goes wobbly and harp plays*
One day in 1984 a teacher handed me a form to complete. “You need to choose what subjects you’d like to study for your O Levels”. (NB for younger readers, O Levels are what they now call GCSEs. Sort of. Except we didn’t have Coursework. It was all cold hard study culminating in 2 lots of 2 hours sweating it out in an exam hall). I don’t think I even knew before then that we got to choose! There was no coaching, prompting, parents’ information evenings, special assemblies. I think we had assembly about once a month?
I didn’t take the form home to discuss with my parents. Instead I discussed it with my (much cleverer) friends, which led to me making not very wise choices. I chose English Literature, History and Art – perfect for me. The rest were not so good. I chose Chemistry and Physics over Biology (no, I don’t know). We had to choose a language and as I had never done German I chose French and then to seal the deal I chose Computer Studies. In those days there were 5/6 of us to a computer, there was no internet, and the original Apple iMac was a pip in Steve Jobs’ eye. This was PROGRAMMING. No I have no idea what I was thinking either.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school. Uni was for bright kids or rich kids. No one felt “entitled” or pressured even, to go to Uni in those days. You could leave school at 16 and get a real proper job. I had grand ideas of something in PR or Marketing. You needed A levels to do that. I seem to recall we had a careers advisor who just shoved whatever leaflet she deemed relevant into your hand and sent you packing.
But having picked subjects that I didn’t really enjoy, I didn’t concentrate and my cleverer friends left me standing. And the more I was left standing the less I enjoyed.
Not one teacher picked up on why a previously good student was failing. Not one teacher suggested I may have chosen inappropriate subjects. When I struggled with my maths (a mandatory subject) the only reason I got help was because my mum and dad paid for private lessons. I don’t even recall my parents having to come to school for a parents evening in all this time.
So I ended my O Level experience with *&%$£ O levels. I stuck out one year of resits instead of the glossy shiny A levels that my peers were sitting. This combined with a mini business studies course at the technical college.
At the end of that year I left school after my cousin who worked at the Department of Social Security in the fraud squad told me about a job going there. (Yes, even in Thatcher’s 80s I got a real, proper job). I became a) quickly bored as it wasn’t rocket science and b) used to the money. I declined an au pair role in London to work in the safety of Insurance in Norwich at 19.
*Screen goes wobbly and harp plays again*
So where is all this leading?
I’m quite proud of how I ended up as a EA. I went back to work after having nearly 8 years as a stay at home and as luck would have it I had a (female) boss who thought I was great. She saw the potential. She saw that I worked hard. So much so that they chose me to work 25 hours a week because I got more done that the person who worked 35 hours a week. I went from part time admin assistant in the NHS to a full time Office Manager and PA at a large state school in less than 5 years.
With a couple of PA roles in the interim I now work as an EA. Look mum, all this and no degree! I am entirely self-taught – I taught myself to use MS Office whilst stuck at home with two small children. I taught myself about email and how to use the internet. I got typing qualifications and a Grade A in GCSE Law that I took just for “fun” as an evening class. I even commenced my School Business Manager qualification. No one is disappointed in my “career” trajectory. Except me. I am dissatisfied with my job. Being a PA/EA is very boring. The job has evolved so much, mainly due to technological advances. I haven't typed a letter for over 2 years. And I think I answer the phone about 3 times a day. Once a school child said to me 'so you're basically Mr Headmaster's Slave?' Not a bad analogy really. Out of the mouths of babes and all that ...
I had a postcard on my desk when I first went back to work. It said “I wanted to go out and change the world, but I couldn’t find a babysitter”. My lovely Greenham Common veteran, ex labour councillor, anti-domestic violence campaigner, all round feminist boss hated it! Truth is I did want to make a difference but it wasn’t a babysitter I needed, it was guidance.
So I’m glad there were parents' evenings, and information evenings, letters, booklets, coaching and mentoring and “help your child with their homework” evenings. I’m glad people were there to empower my sons with knowledge and confidence. I’m glad I said to both of them “study what you LOVE or you will never study”.
I’m so proud of my eldest son who never faltered in his wish to be an accountant. And I’m so proud of my younger son who has no idea what he wants to do, but has turned this around into taking opportunities presented to him and is going to explore places I have never even been.
This is what I have only ever hoped for my children. That they grab these opportunities I never had with both hands and in some small way go out and change the world.