Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The five stages of post-results grief

Before you read the post, watch this:
A wise woman once said that there are five stages in the response of human beings to death:
1.       Denial
2.       Anger
3.       Fear
4.       Bargaining
5.       Acceptance
Many thanks to Homer for the comic illustration.
Now, IF I was prone to melodrama (Hildrew, Fry, Newton, stop smirking!) I would argue that, as Head of Faculty, receiving a set of bad exam results is a kind of death.
The finality of the letter on the results page marks, for most students, a blunt end to the processes of learning, revision and examination that have been their life for at least two years. As in death, all GCSE students will face the day of judgement that is results day.
When that letter isn’t the one that was hoped for, as Head of Faculty, you also suffer a little death (and not the sexy French kind). For that black letter is the crushing end product of the hopes and aspirations you’ve fostered for your students, whether in your own class or those of others. In some way, a tiny light you’ve been holding on to, flickering beneath your weather-worn exterior, that perhaps, some way, they *might* just ‘pull it out of the bag’, when it really counts, is extinguished.
Of course, I’m not melodramatic. Not one jot. But, Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief do perfectly fit the emotional state I’ve found myself in since the end of August.
Firstly, denial. The first alarm bells were sounded by a text message: ‘It’s not good news.’ My super ego immediately kicked in: ‘Now let’s just think about this. They could’ve made a mistake with their calculations. The double entries between iGCSE and GCSE have just thrown them off! Silly boys.’ I’m a stubborn old mule, and not until I’d created my own spreadsheet from my own downloads of student results from e-AQA and manually crunched the numbers would I finally accept what I’d heard hours earlier – and easily could have read from SISRA Analytics or the spreadsheet our efficient AHT had already emailed round – our results were bad. Students had, rather spectacularly, underperformed in the exam, putting our Faculty and school, yet again, in a euphemistic ‘challenging position’.
So, what did I do? I got mad. “We worked so hard! They must not have revised!” I furiously typed to my DHoF. “Some students didn’t answer all the questions!” I screamed at my slightly bewildered husband. “Bloody AQA’s unreliable marking strikes again!” I tweeted to other HoFs. I even wrote a fairly hysterical blog post that will never see the light of day in which I sought to blame, well, pretty much anyone but myself. And it made me feel better for a time (particularly when accompanied by a large glass of wine and the company of sympathetic friends).
But anger, although cathartic, paralyses you. It leaves you charging round like the proverbial bull in a china shop, damaging professional relationships and yourself if you let it, making it just as unhelpful as the next stage to visit me: fear.
I’m not going to drone on about just how SAD I felt when ‘fear’ hit. Read the latest Guardian ‘Secret Teacher’ column if you want a sense of that. I will say that an internal voice started piping up that maybe my school and Faculty would be better off without me and will also confess that I did more than a little research into moving to Japan… But, after five years as HoF I’m lucky enough to have strong support networks to rely on when the ‘black dog’ hits (you know who you are).
I’m not one for swallowing my feelings and, as in the latest Pixar offering ‘Inside Out’, I’ll happily champion a good sob and a wallow when it’s needed, but at some point you’ve got to reapply your mascara and move on. (OK, the fear of not being good enough is still there. However I’m pretty sure that’s true of most people and I don’t think that, when it’s under control, it is a bad thing. It’s that feeling that constantly makes me want to learn more, do better, and has driven me to finish my NPQSL and sign up to present at TLT15.)
So, now far more calm and collected, it became time to take that cold, icy stare at those little black letters and start to work out how to navigate the way ahead. I guess applying for re-marks could be seen by some as ‘bargaining’, but for me, a tweet I received from a student sums them up best: “I don’t mind if my mark goes up or down. It was just unexpected. At least then I’ll know the mark I got is right.”
I’m pleased to say that at some point this week I reached the final stage: acceptance. Going into school to get stuck into the mundane task of clearing our horribly messy stock cupboard definitely helped. Not only is sweeping up what, inexplicably, appeared to be dog hair from under our display boards a fantastic leveller, but it’s the best possible reminder that LIFE GOES ON. SCHOOL GOES ON.
I’m ready to meet with the governors, the Head, my team. I’m ready to talk about our results and what we’re going to do to make sure it never happens again. And I’m ready to explain to them that in fact, exam results – good or bad – are no death at all. No. They’re the start of the next thoroughly exciting stage of our wonderful students’ lives and, just as before, we will go on supporting them to the absolute best of our ability to achieve what we know they’re capable of, even if (especially if?) they don’t know it themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Caroline - sorry I missed this last year (but it's one of the joys of Twitter that things come BACK!) It took me back to my first year as Head of English when our Year 11 results were disappointing. I remember so vividly how I felt. But I survived and worked through it, as, of course, did the students and the rest of the department. Hope today has been a better day for you...