11 Pieces Of Back To School Advice You Probably Didn’t Ask For

Summer has ended and everyone is heading back to school. Students and teachers alike are both mildly petrified about what tomorrow might bring. Bags are packed with many more pens and pencils than will ever make it past lunch time, uniform is cleaner than it ever will be again, and there is a faint whiff of shoe polish in the air. As the new school year begins, here are 11 pieces of advice you didn’t ask for:

  1. Your health (both mental and physical) always, always comes first. Before any grades, before any coursework, before any exams. Your health is more important than any school work will ever be.
  2. Teachers aren’t the enemy. Sure they might feel it at times, especially if they’re making you do things you don’t want to do. They’re not supposed to have favourites – but we all know that they probably do. Still, whether you’re their favourite student, or you think they probably hate you, you will get much further working with your teachers than against them.
  3. Spelling is important. Everyone who knew me through school and reads this will laugh. I absolutely detested spelling at school. Really, really hated it (partly because I was absolutely hopeless at it until someone taught me to spell by shape. I’m very visual, so used to get same-heighted letters muddled up). I couldn’t work out why the heck I needed to know it when things like spell-checkers exist. They do exist… but they only kick in if you’re moderately close to the word you’re aiming for. Also, even though you think you’ll never use a pen after leaving school, you actually end up hand-writing more then you realise, and it can be really, really embarrassing if you have no idea where to start when trying to write a word!
  4. A lot of talents and skills aren’t recognised by exam boards. For some things in life, you do need certain grades in certain things, and it is good to always try your best at stuff. But not every skill and talent is measured by school. My job now basically involves talking to people, networking, and problem solving. School definitely never encouraged me to talk (except in French), in fact I think a lot of my teachers would have preferred it if I’d have remained a bit quieter.
  5. Your best is good enough. It really, really is. You can’t try harder than your absolute best. Please don’t destroy yourself in the process of trying to be more than you are.
  6. It’s okay to not know who you are. It’s okay to change your hair and make-up. It’s okay to choose a rucksack over a handbag (or vice versa!). It’s okay to change your likes and dislikes. It’s okay to try certain hobbies, not like them, stop doing them and start doing something else. It’s absolutely okay be anyone you want to be (unless you’re a plonker… don’t be a plonker).
  7. Don’t be mean. It might sound really simple, straightforward and basic, but it’s an important one. Don’t be a bitch. Don’t talk about people behind their backs (even when it feels like everyone else is). Don’t trip people or laugh at people. Don’t make fun of people for the way they choose to style their hair or what bag they’ve chosen. It’s not worth it. When finding your way through life, it’s as well to have as many people on your side as possible – be nice to people.
  8. Do your homework/write your notes up. You’ll hate it at the time but love yourself when exam season rolls around.
  9. Life isn’t all academics. Join a sports team, start D of E, play an instrument, go on the occasional jog, join Scouts/Guides, volunteer, socialise, paint, go shopping, go to the cinema, watch TV. Life isn’t all about school work.
  10. Speak out if you’re struggling. Talk to a friend, a teacher, a school nurse, a parent, an aunt, a sibling, your GP. Write it in a diary. Talk to people and let them know if you’re struggling. People can’t help if they don’t know. However you’re feeling – you’re not the first person who has ever felt that way or who has ever had that struggle and things can get better. But you need to let people in.
  11. There is a whole world outside of school. School is all-encompassing and at times, overwhelming. When you’ve sat on a leaky bus for 3 hours of the day, just to wear something you’re not comfortable in, study subjects you’re not interested in and speak to people you don’t really like, it can be a serious drag. But life doesn’t start and end with school. There is a whole world out there waiting for you when you finish. A world with friends you’ve not met yet, places you’ve not visited yet, and more jobs that you can wrap your mind around. However hellish school is, you’re only there for such a small percentage of your life.

Good luck, look after yourself, and try to have fun while you’re at it Xxx

However awkward you are when you start school… you probably won’t end it much better.

Letters don’t define your life.

As most people who have Twitter will know, yesterday was A-Level results day. The day when 18 years olds anxiously refresh UCAS and shake their way into school to collect brown envelopes containing their fate. Have they got the letters needed to get them to their choice of university? Or are they destined to a year of ‘gap-yah-ing’ it up and working out what to do with their lives?

Either way, those 3 (or more) letters do not define you as a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’ – something which is hard to trust or believe, especially at the age of 18 when you’re the only one of your friends to have dropped a grade.

I’m 20 now, it’s two years since I got my results, but I can still remember it clearly. I received grades which anybody would be pleased to open. They got me to the university that I wanted to attend and would not hold me back from anything I wanted to do. But I wasn’t happy. Why? They weren’t a perfect score. I went to a school where most people were aiming for an A or A* in most subjects. The stress of repeated testing and constant pressure had really taken it’s toll on me. I always thought of myself as ‘academic’ (however you define that) but on the receipt of those results I was lost.

In the last couple of years, I have taken steps to define myself by something other than my grades. Volunteering in general, but particularly Team v (a volunteering program training the next generation of social leaders) is something which has really helped me with this. It was the first time in my memory that I was learning by doing, not by textbook, and more importantly – learning because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to. If I made a mistake it was fine, that was simply part of the learning process. At interview they didn’t want to know my grades, they just wanted passion and potential. I couldn’t tell you the grades of a single one of my Team v friends but I could rattle off grades of my school friends at the drop of a hat.

I have made huge steps in learning that there is life outside grades and that the person you are, and more importantly your own personal happiness, are much more valuable then any letter defining your ability to recite reactions will ever be.

It’s a long road and it’s a hard thing to accept when we are brought up in a society where newspapers tell us that ‘exams are getting easier’ and ‘unemployment is rising’. Admittedly – last night I felt like that 18 year old “failure” again. But it’s so important to remember – your grades are not you. Do not let letters define your life.

Check out this video for more inspiration.