Could have done better

Concerned that the words might be read again by someone somewhere in fifty years’s time, I have spent much of the day carefully writing reports for the twenty-five students in my Year 7 tutor group. It was a relief not to have to write reports on all of the students whom I have taught in the past year; three hundred and fifty comments would have taken a considerable time.

I have been mindful of the need to choose words carefully because a year ago my mother unearthed my Year 7 report from Elmhurst Grammar School in Street, where I spent a year before it closed its doors for the last time in the summer of 1973.

In those days, every subject teacher was expected to write a sentence for each student they taught. The comments were about as useful (and accurate) as mine would have been if I had been required to comment on three hundred and fifty students.

The most comical comment of all in the report came from the physical education teacher. Awarding a grade “C,” he wrote, “Ian has made some improvement in swimming.” I couldn’t swim at all. I didn’t learnt to swim until I was thirty-eight; how could I have made improvement?

There are three Cs and seven Bs on the report, something which I remember reading with a sense of injustice. In the end of year exams, I had done well in most subjects. I had come fourth in geography, fifth in science, sixth in maths and French and seventh in English – surely, I had deserved at least one A minus? In history, I had scored a dismal 33% in the exam, coming sixteenth, but still was awarded a B.

The comments on the report were probably the longest communication I received in the year from some of the teachers. “He has worked steadily and shows average ability,” was the comment from the art teacher. I suspect that similar words were used by him on many reports. “Average ability,” was an absurd exaggeration, my talent for art was worse than my ability for swimming, if one can have less than zero talent.

Reading through the report now, the teachers whose names appear were not old. Some were in their twenties, some probably only retired in the last decade, yet they seem to have belonged to a bygone era.

A little empathy from some of them would have gone a long way. There would probably have been many pupils who would have left with happier memories.

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