Thursday, 4 September 2014

The lift that never worked

The day I arrived the lift wasn’t working. 
Original Image courtesy
of maya picture
It seemed that everyone else used it successfully 
But the buttons failed to work for me. 
Alone I searched for the stairs. 

The promise of belonging had lured me in, 
The entry code earned after a considerable struggle. 
Totally uncertain of myself yet thrilled and excited I entered alone 
Certain this was where I wanted and needed to be. 

Each flight of steep stairs tantalised me with hope 
Of the moment I would join others and relinquish the invisible bubble around me. 
How I ached to leave behind the loneliness 
And discover my place in the jigsaw of life. 

I climbed and climbed 
Pausing for breath and the time to analyse each difficult step. 
The pain of isolation seemed to lessen with each floor I reached. 
Others called “Hello” as they passed me – and smiled! 

At last it seemed I was making real progress 
My longed for destination approaching, 
The opportunity to relax amongst others – 
To “Be” without thinking, analysing, worrying. 

And thus I arrived – or so I thought 
At the floor where I had yearned to be, with the Everyone I wanted to join 
Only to discover nothing had changed. 
The door was locked and I remained outside, alone.

I wrote this when I was 16. 
I always loved school but found "fitting in" quite a challenge, always on the periphery of every social circle - or so it seemed. That metaphorical lift never actually worked for me, there was no easy route into acceptance.

And right now I know a couple of students currently feeling this way. 
As the new school year starts everyone is jostling for permission, finding their feet in new surroundings often with unfamiliar people. (Meanwhile the familiar ones might seem less familiar after the long break than perhaps they should!)

School is perhaps the toughest social environment you are ever likely to find yourself in. It's not optional, and most schools operate a largely "one size fits all" approach to their students. And you rely almost solely on your parents to ensure you end up in the right place. And that's the key in my opinion - finding the right place for YOU.  Because later on you have choices, as you shed the strait-jacket of public exam timetables and move into the more fluid world of college or work (hopefully) armed with a better understanding of who you are.  Not until adulthood can you can seize control of your life with the essential tools to make sound decisions.

As a parent I'm often asked why I have three children at one school, and the fourth at another. And until recently I thought I knew the answer. But in actual fact, the real reason is far simpler than any  academic, social or medical reason I might have previously conjured up. It's not because of what that one child is or isn't, and it isn't a second choice. Choosing a school is such a fundamentally, crucially important decision. It should never be reactive - selecting a second, third or even fourth "best" because x y and z were not possible.  It's about making a proactive choice for that individual- focussing on who they are, their talents, personality and potential. And I honestly believe that is the same for all children irrespective of how "good" or "bad" a school might be. Because one size never fits all.

But even when you are indeed in the right place for you, those initial weeks can often seem particularly traumatic, with parents chewing their nails to the quick in a state of anxiety comparable to our offspring! Do we do our children a disservice focusing so strongly on the "Transition" process, making moving up such a big deal? In our efforts to prepare and calm them, do we in fact whip kids up into a frenzy of change-acknowledgement and preparation? I think perhaps we do. In an aspiration-driven superlative-seeking frenzy parents arm themselves with the latest stats, information and opinion, learn their rights and options and strive to secure the "best" place they can for their child, be it in the Private or State sector. But do we sometimes choose schools based on parental need more than that of our child?

Sometimes I wonder if we lose sight of what we should be focussing on, as however good that school is, what really matters is whether it fits your child. Because if their metaphorical lift isn't working when they get there, it's not a good place to be.


  1. What a fantastic post and wow to still having work you did at school. Mine is somewhere in my mums old houses loft. We never got it out when she died. I must do that some day (my bother owns it now)!
    There isnt a one size fits all solution. My children are very different and I know that if we had choices regarding schools we would make the choice for each individual.
    I hated senior school. I didn't fit in and hope my children have a happier time than me. I fear that with social media if I had been a child now my life would have been even more complicated.

  2. I don't have any old work left - think I threw it all away :p

  3. I have nothing from childhood, except one toy. Lucky you x

  4. This is so true, I completely agree with you. I wasn't happy at secondary school either and have really tried to find schools where my kids will be happy. After all, if you're miserable it will affect your learning.

  5. Really wise words of wisdom there and i totally agree with everything you've touched on. I have 3 siblings and we all went to different schools - myself to a Grammar school, my sister to a mixed state school and my two brothers went to a private school. You definitely need to focus on your child's wants and needs rather than your own! xxx

  6. Some of the parents at my daughter's school are already in overdrive about choosing schools even though we still have two years. The talk is all about league tables, Ofsted reports and GCSE results. None of it is about what is right for their children. My mother asked me on three separate occasions if I wanted to go to a private school and I declined all three times and she respected my decision.

  7. Sorry to hear you felt you never fitted in. I think what is hard is that sometimes are choices are limited and we do not always get to go where we want - and then we just have to learn to make the most of what we do have.

  8. School sounds as though it was tough for you and these words are so poignant coming from a 16-year old. Well done for making the difficult decision to send one of your children to a different school, you're right, "one size never fits all."

  9. It amazing that you wrote this when you were 16! I never fitted in at school and I think I would have loved to move to a new one and tried to start over again. It's something I'll keep in mind when my children start secondary school. Some times its better they are happy rather than it being a great school

  10. i think my parents have some of my school work in there loft - I know I wanted to burn it all - I didn't too well at school. x

  11. I still have some old art work that I'm proud of. I think fitting into schools have and always will be tough for kids, I also think it's probably a lot harder nowadays x

  12. I loved school and was always the person that was in the middle - friends with the popular and the geeks. I don't have any of my old work sadly

  13. They say the school years are the happiest times but not so for me. I hated secondary school and already feel a lot of pressure to ensure I choose the right school for my daughter in the hope she has happier experiences.

  14. One size fits all doesn't work in school environment and I wish more teachers didn't use this approach. I loved school times but I think as the time go by it is harder and harder for kids to fit in.

  15. Amazing writing for a 16 year old and it's only gotten better


Many thanks for taking the time to comment, I really value your responses.

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