"I love history, but I am not very good at it,
so the school won’t let me take it at GCSE."
I looked at this young person who was telling me about what subjects she was taking this coming term with my mouth wide open in disbelief. I didn’t know what to say, which for those who know me would come as a bit of surprise. What do you say to someone who has been told that they are not good enough to take a subject that they love?
This got me thinking about the old days ~ well my youth, but to my children, anything before 2000 is the old days! Most specifically I was thinking about my experience of learning History at school. Now, I was always a bit of a History geek, it was without a doubt my favourite subject, but I'll let you into a little secret that I kept hidden from my classmates ~ I wasn't very good at it.
My old School ~ yes, I know, a perfect example of what you can do with concrete blocks and glass.
"Mary, you put down GCSE History as your chosen Humanities subject?"
He said it like a question rather than a fact.
"Yes," I answered, nervously, knowing what he was going to say,
but silently willing him not to say it.
He sighed, and his face had a strained look upon it.
"We have been discussing you in the department..."
And I thought, here we go. He is going to say no, you can’t take it.
"... You are a straight A student in Geography and Religious Education. We think it would be in your best interest to choose out of those two.
So which one shall we put down?”
My personal choice would have been to take all three subjects, but that wasn't allowed. I would have happily dropped Maths ~ but they weren't having that!
"But," I answered. "I want to take History. I love History.
I want to be a History Teacher."
He shook his head in despair.
"You really need to think about this some more.
I'll see you again in a couple of days."
I was very lucky I had two very switched on History teachers, who were not only incredibly amusing, but they genuinely wanted to see me succeed. They asked me what my goal was and then they went out of their way to give me as much guidance as possible to achieve that goal. I went from D/E History student to an A/B one. I passed History GCSE with flying colours. I took the subject to A’ Level and then on to University. Now who is to say, that this young person I spoke to just the other day, couldn't do the same?
My favourite all time teacher was one of my History teachers. I have never met anyone teach history the way he did. He was inspirational. I don't think I have ever laughed so much as I did in his lessons. He was incredibly entertaining ~ he once dressed up as a Garibaldi Biscuit ~ it was his interpretation of Giuseppe Garibaldi ~ yeah, I know, we didn’t get it either!
A Garibaldi Biscuit!
I can still remember what he taught me. But the thing that stands out most was his commitment to his pupils. He would go out of his way to help us. He would stay behind after school, if we needed extra help. We were never a burden to him. He obviously loved his job, and this came across in his teaching.
I wanted to go to Cardiff University to study History, but I screwed up my mock exam big time. I mean BIG TIME. I scarcely passed it. Cardiff wanted BBB, I wasn't too concerned about the other two subject I was taking, but I was hoping Cardiff was going to ask for a C in History ~ With a lot of work I might just pull that off. But after the disaster of the mock, I knew that there was no way I was going to get a B. I was upset, I thought this is it, this is where my dream ends. I had less than six months to pull it out of the hat. My teacher read the letter from the University and said, "Right. You need a B. Listen to me, do as I say, and I promise you, you will nail it." I listened. He tutored. And I nailed it. I got that B and I was offered a place at Cardiff University.
So when I hear that our young adults are being stopped from taking the subjects they love because of League Tables, it makes me very emotional. What if the Head of Humanities had said "NO" to me when I was 14? What if I had ended up taking Geography? I certainly would not have thrown myself into the subject the way I did History and even though I tutor Geography from time to time, History is still where my passion lies, and it always will be. When I am tutoring History, I feel alive, and I make sure that the children I tutor come away from the lesson with a smile on their face because I know from experience that they will remember what I said. And if I am tutoring a challenging aspect of history, I am not ashamed to let my eyes water.
For me, History was never boring, because the teachers didn't make it so and therein lies the key to bringing up a generation of history lovers. It isn't all about dates and boring facts. History is about people. People like you and I who, because of circumstances, find themselves doing the most extraordinary things. It is about the stories of our collective past and if our young people want to learn about it, who are we to say no, just because they may not get an A?