The hockey stick

This statement has been causing a bit of a stir on twitter.

Here is my response:

I looked doubtfully at the hockey stick handed to me by my mum. I was pretty sure this wasn’t like the sticks other girls would have. I really didn’t want to take it into school. My mum had bought it in a jumble sale and stated it was fine. You could not reason or argue with my mum. It was best to not even question her or she might ‘go mad’. In retrospect I can see this was probably quite literally what happened to my mum. She had mental health problems undiagnosed throughout her life. They had already meant we children had been in care once and would be again. I knew I could not trust my mum to provide me with the correct equipment my school expected Year 7 students to have.

My PE teacher curled her lip disdainfully. She looked faintly amused. I shrivelled up inside, desperate to get the offending stick out of sight. I was not in trouble though. I might get nagged about missing name tapes, shabby uniform, inadequate packed lunches and incorrect sports kit but this time it clearly wasn’t my fault. Mind you I was used to fudging, prevaricating and generally steering a way through the minefield that is school life when you don’t have a parent holding your hand along the way.

It was obviously wrong that I was held responsible for issues over which I had no control. Especially now I have children of my own my heart goes out to that little girl I used to be, getting on with life as best she could, playing the hand dealt to her and never really questioning the justness of the situation in which she found herself.

Surely such a child has every excuse to fail? There was no one to put out my swimming kit every Wednesday (or even dry it out after use), no one to find that missing exercise book in the panic of a Monday morning, no one to sit by me as I got through the summer homework project, no one to take me to WH Smith for fresh supplies. I’ll always be grateful for the kindness of those who saw I had needs and without fuss or busy-bodying self-importance helped that little girl solve the small problems that were big in her life.

I am also very grateful that no one at my school made excuses for me. No one told me I could live by different rules to everyone else, hold myself to a lower standard. I had a fight on my hands to make something of life and I didn’t need anyone giving me excuses not to bother trying. Perhaps most children had extra help along the way but I was perfectly capable of remembering sports kit, getting homework done (even in very ‘difficult’ home circumstances) and remembering a flippin pen. I was unhappy and neglected, not a moron.

I remember a moment later in my teens when I saw this clearly. My boyfriend’s brother was complaining bitterly about his mum’s favouritism towards his siblings. He stopped short, realising that I had no mum (she had died by this time) and perhaps such talk was inconsiderate. Oddly I had never really considered myself worthy of special consideration because of my background. I revolved the idea around in my mind, attracted by the seductive pull of this mindset. I could demand special consideration from others in the way they treated me! I could get angry and offended every time someone talked about their own privileged lives without consideration for those like myself not so fortunate. I really liked the thought of this but some common sense part of me couldn’t go there. Why should people censor normal topics of conversation because of my presence? What was the point of making excuses for myself if it meant I didn’t get to university and give myself a chance of a better future?

There are plenty of ways to help children who have miserable lives but making excuses for them is not one of them.


8 thoughts on “The hockey stick

  1. I actually agree with more or less everything you say and the narrative is great! I think that being kind to pupils is not about making excuses but about using discretion, being sensitive and moving on. It is about knowing which battles are worth fighting and maybe, rightly or wrongly, we have to accept that different teachers handle things differently. Thanks for this tho Heather. Really measured and convincing.


  2. Thank you for this. The thing that I have found, unfortunately, is that such testimony seems to fall on deaf ears. It is just not what they want to hear. Which is what makes me think that the excuses are about the person making them more than for the good of the child. I think falling into self-pity and despair is easily done but let’s face it, what is done, is done and can’t be erased. So we have to learn to move on. But I always think that when a person gets through a difficult time in their lives it shows it can be done and is a positive inspiration to others going through a difficult time.

    It is easy to forget that when one is a child with a difficult family life, hope is the one thing that can get you through. Excuses simply block whatever chink of light is shining through at the end of the tunnel.

  3. I too had a less-than-lovely childhood and had to sort of try and cover up my own lack of funds. For example, we used to have a compulsory ‘voluntary’ school contribution that would be chased up. Knowing that there was no money at home, I got used to saying ‘Cheque’s in the post’. I was teased for having slightly incorrect and woefully unfashionable PE kit. My mother wasn’t even bothered when I went to get my GCSE results (I got straight As).

    Did my teachers lower their expectations of me because I was poor and didn’t have any support? Did they heck!

    I don’t even begrudge my childhood. If anything, I’m proud of how strong and hard working I became as a result. I could get all pity-party about it, but chose not to.

  4. This is such a powerful piece because it is so so true. Kids can have all sorts of crap thrown at them. Making excuses for them in the things that they can actually control doesn’t do anybody any favours.

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