Recently, my 16-year-old sister was talking about how fast a whole year has passed since she started revising for her GCSE exams. It reminded me of how it’s been nearly five years since I left my 11-16 state comprehensive secondary school – a place which played a great role in the development of my personality and my interests. With this in mind, plus the fact I’m now finishing my degree, I’ve decided to have a reminisce and tell you all about my experiences as an awkward teenager!
Other people who were in my year group at secondary school might have a different perception of what I was like when I was at school, but from my perspective, I felt I was one of the nerdy ones in my year. I was quite academic and did well in the core subjects at school and, in line with a lot of studious people, was absolutely awful at more practical lessons, like P.E., Art and Design Technology. One time, when we used to have to do the beep test in P.E., I got a score somewhere in the range of 3! I infuriated some P.E. teachers with my stubbornness!
I’m sure a lot of people cringe at the nerdy things they used to do in Year 7 or 8, but mine were pretty embarrassing. In Year 7, I spent most of my lunchtimes in the school library, had violin lessons and joined school clubs including String Group and the school choir. I was also briefly – wait for it – a member of an Esperanto Club, which was dedicated to learning a universally-designed language (which still hasn’t caught on! The teacher who ran it was my English teacher at the time, and very supportive of my work, however).
I’m sure others will agree with me that state comprehensive schools are not great breeding grounds for individual personalities, and because I was quite an academic person, I bore the brunt of some low-level teasing about this, more so in my earlier years at secondary school. I don’t feel I was bullied, but I was often the subject of jokes due to being academic. In the fabulous record that is my teenage diaries, I regularly refer to myself as a “boff” (short for “boffin” – weren’t the noughties fabulous for slang?), a phrase which I came to discover during my early years at secondary school. More disruptive pupils were slightly meaner. I remember one person in my year (who later got expelled so the joke’s on him), joke to the class that I would laugh at Shakespeare’s works (note: I didn’t – at that stage, they were hard to understand!). Thankfully, I was pretty resilient, my friends at the school were also quite academic and I had a really supportive family who didn’t have any expectations of me.
However, secondary school was the place where my ambitions to write were greatly supported, and I am so incredibly grateful to the English teachers at the school for being so positive about my writing skills. In Year 9, the Head of English stopped me at the end of a class and told me that a book review I had written was one of the most technically accurate pieces she had ever read. That year, she also introduced me to writing journalistic articles. She set our class an in-class assessment to write a satirical article, and she was really supportive of mine. I am so glad I was assigned her as a teacher that year.
I definitely feel I got less nerdy as I went through secondary school, but I was still involved in a lot of opportunities at the school. My two closest friends at secondary school were both quite into Drama, and we spent a lot of free time in our school’s Drama room. Even though we are not as close now, I am still grateful that they were there to navigate me through quite a bit of my teenage years and I have some really good memories of things we did together. I gave up violin lessons in Year 9 but still played in orchestras, and learnt the piano at school instead. I was a Drama leader, a Prefect and was also on the school council (I had done this previously at secondary school, but not properly). These things might not be to everyone’s taste, but I wanted to do them, and I’m glad I did.
If I had to give advice to any teenagers going through secondary school at the moment, I would urge them to not be swayed by other people’s comments or perceptions and to pursue their interests, regardless of what anyone might think. Had I internalised the low-level teasing or behaviour I felt was connected to my strengths, and thus stopped doing what I liked or dumbed down in classes, I would likely not be in the position I am in now – about to finish an undergraduate degree, ranked in the top 10 of all British universities for that subject, at a UK Russell Group University. If people have a problem with the things you are passionate about or are successful at, that is their problem, not yours. Sooner than you know it, secondary school will be over and you will be a stronger, more independent and likely more successful person than otherwise. Stay kind, stay confident, and stay individual. You won’t regret it.
(Picture: Me, aged 15!)