Tuesday 15 August 2023

Fear of Failure or Saluting Success? A High Achiever’s Guide to Results Days

Emily explores what labelling at school can do to confidence and how this can culminate in high emotions on result day.

- Emily

Throughout my entire career through education, I was acutely aware of the labels that were collecting on my school reports and tarring my path as I exceeded through to the next year. 

I distinctly remember being placed on the ‘Dates’ table of our fruit-themed setting and streaming - the teacher’s attempts to mask our status as the ‘top set table’ shrivelled as much as our 7-year-old enthusiasm for the fruit itself.  

In our Year 6 Leavers’ Assembly, I was awarded a shiny certificate that revealed, voted by my fellow classmates, I was ‘Most Likely to Win a Nobel Prize’. Aged 11, my pathway was set, it seemed.   

Throughout Years 7, 8 and 9, I was on the Gifted and Talented board, with my embarrassing swept-fringe mugshot on displays dotted around different departments, wishing to showcase their star students. 

I smashed my GCSE mocks in year 10 with a glittering array of A*s, but by this time, my efforts and success, for many teachers (even those I’d never been taught by!) and all of my peers, was an expectation. I had peers, friends even, roll their eyes at the next return of our marks, and the congratulations of teachers diminished to the few teachers I considered to be my absolute rock throughout my secondary experience. When the actual grades came through, my ‘B’ in French stood out like a sore thumb - I even had one teacher tell me it was a shame.   

Readers, I don’t expect to hear of your shock when I describe how this manifested in a ‘fear of failure’ for any results that came through. I was scared to lose and can’t really remember what it was like to celebrate those successes, instead. I became obsessed with reaching the top, and being the best. Never for myself - always to please others. I craved others' pride in me more than anything else.   

I’ve never worked harder in my life than I did in the two years of my A-levels. By January of year 13, I was hitting my stride with A*s across my voluntary past papers that I religiously handed in each week.  So you can imagine, the pressure of the actual exams was a LOT. With the pressure, I had within myself to not fail, though wobbly, my aspirations for Higher Education became a secondary priority to making others proud. Looking back now, this really makes me sad. There’s no other way to put it.   

So, when results day came around and I found myself opening that envelope to an A* and 2 B’s, I excused myself to the toilets and had a cry. The pressure crumbled and my highest expectations felt like sand shifting through my fingers.   

I was into University! I had achieved amazing grades! Why was I so upset?  

As a teacher myself now, I look back at how the confidence teachers had in me grew into something of an expectation that stopped me from learning one of the most important skills I aim to enlighten in the children I work with: the power to prioritise yourself. This isn’t to discredit my school experiences: I would not be here without the astounding teachers who took me through my first eighteen years of learning. They were my inspiration to venture into the education sector myself and believed in me when I didn’t stand a chance. 

But this is also to say that, regardless of how your results day pans out - whether it’s in a few days or in a few years’ time - you are worth so much more than the letters and numbers ascribed on that page. Don’t forget it.  

Explore more tips on managing exam stress on the Student Minds website.

Hi! I'm Emily and I've just graduated from my MA Early Years Education after an English degree at University of Sussex. I'm an Early Years Teacher but, for now, I'm working with my University's Widening Participation department to help students from underrepresented groups to overcome challenges, including mental health difficulties, in accessing Higher Education.

No comments:

Post a Comment