It’s the last day of August (madness) and for a lot of people, this means that school either has just started or is only around the corner. Not me – I’m starting college very soon, having just graduated from secondary school. As someone who just about survived six years of secondary education and isn’t that much worse off from it, I’d like to share some advice for anyone who’s still in the hellhole, particularly those who are just starting off.
Keep up with your bloody homework. I firmly believe that third year (for any non-Irish folk, this is the year of the Junior Cert., the state exams we do halfway through secondary school) could have been far less stressful had I just done homework in second year. Alas, I didn’t, and panicked so much in third year when I couldn’t remember doing half of the things that my teachers insisted we’d covered six months prior. Everyone will tell you how important it is to do extra study, and it is, obviously, but just doing your homework every day will make so much difference. It might be the last thing you want to do – correction, it will be the last thing you want to do – but you’ll thank yourself later.
Don’t engage in drama. In the early years of secondary school (when we were around 12-14 years old), we were brutal for this. Even if you were as out of the loop as I sometimes was, you’d hear the gossip going around about so-and-so and the bitching was something else. It can be tempting to get involved, especially if you don’t like the person, but it causes you so much unnecessary grief and you’ll also feel a bit shite. Personally, I found this much easier as I got older, when all of us became a bit allergic to drama and all the stress it brought.
You are most likely going to lose some friends and it will hurt. I went into first year with one close friend from primary school (my only friend at the time ha). Naturally, being twelve, I thought we’d stay friends all throughout secondary school, if I thought about it at all. We fell out of touch for many small reasons – no big fights or anything, but it hurt like hell at the time. Sometimes you will lose friendships this way, sometimes you’ll have a full-on argument that destroys your relationship, but no matter what, it isn’t easy. That being said, the pain won’t last forever and you’ll meet loads of new people as well. The new friends you make will make the loss of old friends easier.
You do not need to put on a full face of makeup for school. Before everyone comes at me and accuses me of shaming girls who wear makeup to school, let me stop you right there. If you want to wear makeup, absolutely go for it – I used to wear it myself, when I was around sixteen and still had some energy. I’ve just noticed so many twelve- and thirteen-year-olds piling on a full face as if they’re going to the club when in reality they’re just going to Maths class. If that’s what you like and you can be arsed with it that early in the morning, awesome, but never feel as if you have to. No matter what you do, just be safe in the knowledge that a few years from now you’ll be cringing when you see pictures of yourself. Trust me, no one looks back on these years as the most stylish ones of their life.
Come prepared for any eventuality. If you do no other kindness to yourself, bring painkillers to school today. It’s especially important if you happen to be in possession of a womb and have to deal with periods every month, but headaches and general stomach cramps don’t discriminate based on gender. Other handy things to have in your bag are deodorant (important during summer and on days when you have PE), tissues (if you have a cold or end up crying in the toilet for whatever reason – we’ve all been there) and your phone charger. Not necessarily essentials, but you’ve enough work to be stressing about without the added panic of realising your phone’s on 1% and you know that you need to ring your mam after school.
Have a good filing system for your notes. Another simple thing that would have made my life at school so much easier. Either get a big folder with dividers for different subjects, or just get different folders for different subjects. Don’t bother with individual notebooks, you’ll only worry about making sure that everything’s in the right order, which is far easier when you can just slot pages into plastic pockets. Also: that moment when you’ve finished making notes and you think “ah, I’ll file them later”? You won’t. And then you won’t be able to find them in six weeks time just before the test. File them now. Learn from my laziness.
Don’t be that smart-ass who always talks back to teachers. I’m always up for a bit of banter between teachers and students in class as it makes things a lot more interesting most of the time, but there’s a line. I’ve been guilty of crossing this line a few times just for a cheap laugh and if you’re funnier than me it might work in your favour, but I honestly look back at some of the things I said that I thought were so hysterical and cringe. In other words, use your roasts sparingly, otherwise it turns into a comedy TV show that started out as funny and then went on for too long and became really crap and boring. Not the impression anyone’s hoping to make.
Ask for help when you need it. Whether it’s with homework, a subject you’re struggling with or bullying, you never need to go it alone. Tell your parents you need the grinds, explain to a teacher that you trust that you’re being bullied or harassed, admit to your Maths teacher that you have no idea what’s going on with trigonometry. Unfortunately teachers are not always the most helpful regarding these problems (especially bullying). but I firmly believe that you need to tell someone. It’s a terrifying thing to do, especially when you don’t know how it will turn out, but it’s often even scarier to suffer in silence.
It doesn’t matter as much as you might think it does. I’m aware of how old I sound now and I’m also aware of how annoying it is when some adult says “ah sure it won’t even matter in five years’ time!” I’m not trying to invalidate the fact that it – school, exams, friends, feuds etc. – does matter at the moment, but it can help to have a bit of perspective. Know that in a few years’ time, you’ll be out of this nightmare and have more freedom to do what you actually want and you won’t have to put up with those annoying people in your class that make your life hell. These days, no matter what anyone tells you, are not “the best days of your life” – at least, they’re not for most adults I know. School is something you have to get through and believe me when I tell you that afterwards things start to get better (she says even though she hasn’t even started college yet. It can’t get that much worse).