What a year. And what a year to come.

The Coronavirus caused this academic year to be far from ordinary. And as we return to more normal times, next year isn’t going to be ordinary, either. For Tes, I’ve explored how my priorities are changing in the year ahead. Read it below, or on the TES website here.

My first year of college is officially over. If college were a video game, the year I’ve just had would be the level I’d look up the cheat codes for and desperately skip through so as to get back to the more enjoyable levels. But we don’t live in a game, and we haven’t been able to cheat our way through the year.  

So, how did my friends and I mark the end of our first year? Uninstalling the MS Teams app from our phones, to make sure we properly switch off and reflect, ahead of what’s guaranteed to be another peculiar year. We also said goodbye to two of our three teachers this year. How? Waving goodbye on a video call. No card giving (although GIF sharing was a fun alternative), and definitely no shaking hands or hugging.

I’ll admit it, right now: I’m feeling a little deflated. It wasn’t the start of my FE journey that I had hoped for, and next year isn’t going to be normal, either. It’s been a bumpy ride: the sudden switch to remote learning. Not seeing some friends, or teachers, or Barry the technician, since March. 

Teen life is still insisting on being as challenging as ever: the worry about what I’ll do post-FE has been playing on my mind a lot. I need to write a personal statement over the summer, to study for a course at a university that I’ve not picked yet. I do this knowing that I will be fighting for a place at university against all the deferred entries from this cohort. And if I was to go down the apprenticeship route, that will be potentially more challenging, too: vacancies are going to be sparser than ever before.

This would all seem less surmountable if I could at least enjoy the rites of passage of teen life: socialising, making memories, having a laugh and a joke with friends. But it really seems like there’s not much to laugh and joke about. A classmate’s mum ended up in hospital with Covid-19. It’s been a tough gig. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks there’s been a decline in the effort I’m making to keep up with friends – and for no real reason. We’re no longer doing Houseparty calls every night; our weekly quiz has become fortnightly. Even seeing each other in person, now the rules allow it, feels like a chore sometimes: everything is physically, mentally and emotionally draining.

I don’t want to play this game any more. I want to close it down, put it under my bed, and forget I’ve got it until I take it around to my grandparents at Christmas. But, deep down, I know that’s not actually what I want. Or what I should do. I want to carry on with my FE journey. I need to. And as I look forward to Year 13, my priority for the year ahead has changed. I’m less interested in making sure that every assignment is of distinction quality and sacrificing everything to get there. I’m more interested in having fun with friends and having banter with my tutor in the classroom. Time’s dragged since lockdown in March, and when we press play in September, it’s going to go past at double speed. So, it’s only right that we make double the memories and have double the fun. 

Reflecting on this year of learning

There’s a grounding technique for anxiety and panic attacks I like whereby you name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. So, I’m going to adapt it for grounding myself thinking about college:

What were five things that were good about this year? Starting college; meeting new people and making new friends; studying a subject I’m passionate about; learning about new equipment; and going on work experience.

What are four opportunities lockdown has given me? Experiencing online learning; using new technology such as Zoom and Teams; improving my independent study and organisation skills; and I’ve learned new skills I wouldn’t have done ordinarily – for example, how to host video calls and how to communicate effectively through email and messaging.

What have the top three lockdown wins been? I’ve reconnected with old friends; learned new local dog-walking routes; and perfected my scrambled eggs on toast for breakfast. 

What are two things I’ve got to look forward in the year ahead? I love making plans, and there are pretty big ones to make: exploring the routes and opportunities for after college. I also have loads of practical projects to do next year, as we didn’t do them this year. 

What’s one thing I can’t wait for in September? Being back in the classroom, sat around a table with friends, waiting for my teacher’s PowerPoint presentation to load. 

I’ve taken the time to list the above because I think it’s vital that we recognise that while the end of the year wasn’t great, overall it was a great year. Despite what I might be feeling today, I have had a good start to college, and next year is going to be good too. But equally, it’s OK and fair to be feeling a bit down. And I know that. Things are on the up.

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