We're not talking heroin here or teenage pregnancy, just the slow descent from excitement and wonder into boredom and lack of motivation. In her 14-year school career Angel went from this:
That being a fancy dress party last Monday in school. The whole year was sent home early...just in case. Apart from the exams school officially ended the previous Friday, but then she was back for a while on four of the days last week. The emotional bit came on Tuesday evening when there was a Graduation Mass, with cups of warm tea and awkward conversations in the community hall afterwards.
Oh the tears, the drama, the breaking of the fellowship! And yet most of Angel's friends will be staying in Dublin when they go to College.
For the parents it was a night to feel the passage of the years, and reflect back. I still remember so clearly that first school morning, when she wriggled her little hand out of mine and ran across the school yard to her friends - without a backwards glance.
There was little drama in the classroom, and Angel sailed through her teenage years with the support of a great group of friends. She speaks warmly of some of her teachers, but her last days at secondary school were marked by complete disinterest. Chatting to the other parents, a lot of us felt the same. The school overlooked our girls. For school awards, for positions of responsibility, to take part in school events. Basically the school seemed to have their favourites, and they were always picked. Now these girls are very talented, and deserve to be recognised. They will surely go on to be successful at whatever they choose to do in life.
But I think that every child is good at something.
Should schools not try to find that special talent and reward and recognise it?
Many parents do that at home as well, but it must be really good for a child's self-esteem to get praised in front of their friends and classmates?
At one extreme are the schools that ban competition altogether. That have no awards and no winners. I don't think that works either. It's not a preparation for real life. And unless you can wrap the children up in a bubble that excludes TV and internet access, they are likely to believe that winning is important, sometimes even when they are very young. I think that children do need to learn about winning and losing. They need to know when they could have won, perhaps if they had put in more effort or if something had not gone wrong. They need to know that losing does not mean you're a bad person or a failure, but that you chalk it up to experience and learn from it and do better next time
One idea I came across was schools that only allow pupils to win an award once - even if they are the best in the school, someone else gets the opportunity the following year. I really like this idea.
They have a great solution at Smiley's school too: here they make the awards fit the children, so last year she won the 'happiest child in the school' award, which I *may* have mentioned before.
Angel might've cared more about the school if she had felt that the school cared more and took more interest in her achievements.
Is this something that bothers you?