On waiting

Most of the time I am glad not to have grown up in the 21st century. Not that I would have wished to have been born any earlier than I was, given my status as a woman – life was pretty shoddy for us girls prior to the 1970s. But when it comes to a 21st century arrival on this planet, I’m not so sure. So many things which I make extensive use of as an adult pose a threat to younger members of society – one poorly-worded social media message can land them in all sorts of trouble, one inappropriate image even more so. Yet if there is one thing which does makes me envious of those who are growing up in the new millenium, it’s how little time they have to spend waiting.

Waiting is torture when you’re young. The older you are, the easier it gets, not least because time seems to speed up with every passing year. Hurtling into middle age can feel like a white-knuckle ride. How did I get here so quickly? Just moments ago I was drumming my fingers, awaiting my A level results, teetering on the brink of adulthood, anticipating all that there was to come.

Whilst I attended school in the 1980s, the school at which I found myself was so old-fashioned, it may as well have been the 1880s. We wore cloaks. Parts of the school had no central heating. We stood up when an adult entered the room. We went to chapel. We wrote in fountain pen – no biros allowed. We were – prepare yourselves please, as this is a controversial issue in education – silent in the corridors. Thankfully, I was a day girl, but the majority of students in the school were boarders and the school revolved around that fact. The school day ran from 8am to 7pm and included time for “prep”. We also attended on Saturday mornings.

When it came to exam results, the fact that the school was designed around its boarders, many of whom came from far afield, meant that there was no Results Day; no students attended the school to collect their grades, the reasoning for this presumably being that many of them lived too far from it to make this practicable. So while the rest of the country received their exam results on the Thursday, we all had to wait 24 hours while staff at the school stuffed a whole load of pre-addressed envelopes and delivered our results to us via the postal service. We received them on the Friday.

The more I think about it, the more it seems frankly extraordinary to imagine myself being willing and able to wait an extra 24 hours to receive those exam results. One class-mate who lived a stone’s throw from the school ended up marching in there and demanding to see her results. I don’t know how keen they were to oblige, but they did eventually hand them over; it probably helped that she got straight As, something largely unheard of in the school at the time. But the rest of us waited patiently, as did our parents. No complaints. No whingeing. If you’d met the headmistress, you’d understand why.

This is the old library at the school in 1945. It looked exactly the same in 1985.
Same goes for the clothes we were permitted to wear in the 6th form. Seriously. If this
photo were in colour, I could have taken it myself.

It is hard to comprehend how different things are for students now, who receive confirmation from their chosen university at the same time as the results go live. It was only as I pondered this that I rememered how I found out about my degree result in the 1990s. Nothing was sent to me by post, but I had a vague feeling that maybe the results should have been finalised. In the end, tired of waiting, my father drove into the university to take a look at the noticeboard. And there it was. He then drove to the supermarket in which I was working to tell me the verdict.

But before I become too envious of today’s youth, I should remind myself how every year the mainstream media tear them to pieces and feast upon the fragments of their dignity when it comes to results time. Every year it gets worse and since 2020 it has been on a whole new level. Students have been told that they are told they are failures, that they are slackers, that they didn’t do “real exams”, that their grades are hideously inflated, that they won’t be recognised by employers – all lies. On the other hand our youngsters are fed a diet of hysteria, told that this year it will be “tougher than ever”, that universities “won’t have enough places”, that the world is in crisis and they will never be able to buy a house and, hey, we’ll probably all be dead within 50 years due to global warming anyway. You name it, our kids have had to put up with it. I think if I were a parent of an 18-year-old right now I would have taken them to a remote desert island with no WiFi, no television, no nothing until the whole thing was over.

Whatever results our Year 13s are finding themselves presented with this year, I am sure that they will face it with dignity. This year group have had it incredibly tough, missing out on the opportunity to sit their GCSEs, missing out on a significant amount of Year 11 and much of Year 12. On top of this insescapable reality, to have to deal with the sheer nonsense pumped out by news outlets that should frankly know better, seems intolerable to me. Yet they will deal with it and they will move on. So now I’m back to being envious. Off to university, off to start an apprenticeship, off to start life. How absolutely wonderful. Good luck to them. Their time is now and they deserve it.

Author: Emma Williams

Latin tutor with 21 years' experience in the classroom. Outstanding track record with student attainment and progress.

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