Today, I let onto my English class that I don’t feel at all confident in my work. At the time, I felt like sobbing but now? I realise that it’s taught me something.
English has always been my favourite subject. I know that I’m at least good at it, because of my GCSE results and the fact that I get alright marks in the stuff I’ve done so far. Because of that, both my class and I didn’t understand why I was so… Down about the work.
We had to write an essay on how marriage was presented in Chapter 2 of the Great Gatsby. I did it for homework, putting effort in but not making it concise or linked enough: I got a B.
For my first essay for that teacher, I KNOW that’s good. At A-Level, at the start, you aren’t expected to get good marks – I got a C in my last english essay because I didn’t round it off enough, and the only reason I got an A in my history essay was because I spent so long on it (longer than you have in the exam) and because the grade boundaries are low.
Still, I know it was good: I know, though, that I could have improved. Listening to the flawless (or it seemed so) paragraphs of some of my classmates, the points they produced effortlessly, made it seem cheap. Shit. We had to go round the class and read out a particular passage that we were proud of, and I was last to do it.
Now, that was a bit of anissue for me. I was all set to read my introduction, but as other people started reading, I began to compare myself. “GOD, you could have written that more concisely,” or “Toooo many quotations, read that instead – your points aren’t linked enough!” It was ridiculous, but I couldn’t help it.
Then, it got to me, and I felt myself freeze. All the rest of the class had had similar issues: they complained, saying that there work wasn’t good enough, and one girl (who had an amazing essay) @refused to read it herself. I understood. And then it got to me.
“Miss,” I said, as the class went silent. I KNEW what I was about to do, that I would take this to the extreme and show my emotions on my face. “Miss, it feels like it’s at GCSE level. It’s just so… Basic, not what you want at A-Level.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine!”
No, I thought. It might be fine for you, for the class, but it’s not fine for me. I wanted to do more, stretch myself, reach for those amazing points and truly achieve what I KNOW I’m capable of doing. I CAN improve, I WILL improve, but making me face up to what I haven’t done in front of everyone makes me feel terrible.
The comments I got from the rest of the people around me were actually not very helpful, which makes me sad. Then again, I would have been in their position too – assuring them that I KNOW their essay would be great. How can I be upset with them when I know that they WERE trying to help?
“It’s like what I’d write at GCSE – there’s no development to it. It’s just not good enough,” I said in a bitter tone, feeling like my embarrassment was choking me because I’m not used to airing my problems with so many people who don’t understand me.
A girl to my right muttered, “Yeah, like what at GCSE with your A star…” in a not quite scathing tone. She didn’t mean it nastily, but I felt my eyes watering, my face flaming.
The teacher: “… Yet you still got a B.”
“That’s not the point!” I wanted to scream. Yes, I’m happy with a B and I know that at the moment, that’s a really good mark to get. What made me the most sad was the fact that I felt as if my feelings were being undermined, JUST because I’d done well at GCSE. I did well today, but it still doesn’t stop me from feeling a bit inadequate, and no one should make you feel like you can’t talk about it.
“Aww, Elm, you look so disgusted!” said a girl across the classroom that really, didn’t know me. I murmurred “Well I am,” so that only my friend Swan who sat next to me could hear. All of it – people who didn’t believe me when I said I couldn’t stand my work, the teacher who couldn’t understand the fact that my self-confidence was shit, and the boy who ALSO didn’t get why a lot of people find it so hard to say good things about themselves – built up to a roar inside my mind.
That boy was the last straw. He was confident in what he wrote (and it was good); I’m glad he was because I Suppose that gave people more confidence to read theirs. What I didn’t like was how he didn’t seem to take in that other people DO NOT find it easy, and maybe they didn’t voice it so much, but me and the other girl did. I did, to a point where I’m most likely viewed as the girl who hates her work.
It IS difficult to tell people why you like what you wrote, to pick it apart and not criticise it, and I failed at that today. I failed at reining in my pure loathing for my work, because as much as I don’t think it’s an awful piece of writing, the fact that people wouldn’t take in that I thought I could have done better really hurt. It’s not their fault, because everyone gets unconfident when they have to read things out to the class, but I just wish I didn’t present that side to the class because it’s something I don’t want them seeing.
Something like feeling inadequate is a private thing. For me, it’s not how I want people seeing me – there’s more to me than that. Even I don’t understand why sometimes, I tell people that my work is awful when realistically, it’s the best I could have done. My old English teacher would have sat me down, explained to me what I did wrong, but then said: “Look. You WON’t be expected to get an A now, Elm. You have to work up to it, and you’ve already got a good foundation.” He knows how my mind works, how I can be so hard on myself.
I learned today that you should never try and dismiss someone’s feelings, just because YOU think they’ve done well. To them, they’ll be comparing themselves and beating themselves up: supporting them is good, but think a bit before you make a judgement of them. Sometimes, you being in the same situation can help because they need to know they’re not alone, but if it gets to the point where you can see disgust at themselves on their face, stop. I hope I’m not being patronising: I’ve done what people today did too, so I get it.
I love my English class; the people there are amazing. However, today made me think that maybe, it’s ME that has to get confidence in myself.
Just because someone’s ‘good’ at a subject, it doesn’t mean they’re proud if they read something out. It just means they’re human, with human flaws and insecurities. I’ll try and remember that, next time I hear in someone’s voice that they’re in the same situation as I was.
From Elm 🙂