What are your priorities in life? Have you thought about that lately? Well I arrived down at school today to find that one young gentleman had had a panic attack during his Leaving Cert Honours English paper the previous day and consequently had to be prescribed medicine to relax. He also felt he could not do his Honours paper in Irish because he felt so poorly nerve wise. I listened to him for half an hour and did a short relaxation/meditation exercise with him. He decided at the end that he would be more relaxed doing the pass paper. I told him that I could not decide for him - only he could make up his own mind. After all he had to live with himself, not me. Anyway I could in no way put pressure of any sort on him. I also rang his mother twice and spoke to her. We both agreed that this young man's mental health was way more important than any exam, than the level of paper sat or than the grade attained. The mother's priority was her son's health as was mine. The level of paper he might sit was a secondary concern. I feel good in myself that I did not put pressure on him. How could I live with myself if he bottled it a second time? He told me he felt more relaxed after our "chat" and relaxation exercise. I also drove him and his friend home and brought them both in for coffee and cakes at MacDonald's new cafeteria in Artane.
Anyway, priorities are important. People are more important than subjects or results, which in the end of the day are all about perception really. A.L. is a good kid, well capable intellectually of honours, but not able to take that horrible pressure which our system puts on some certain few vulnerable individuals. What is our system doing to certain kids? What are we as adults and parents feeding them as regards success in life? Have we got the right priorities? Have we got a realistic and wholesome perspective on life? I use both these words "realistic" and "wholesome" purposely. Realistically the young man is more important than the exam. We must take everything into account, that is, the whole person, not just one aspect of his intelligence. I say one aspect because exams seem to only measure one or two aspects of intelligence at most. (Rather than going on an educational diatribe here I will just briefly allude to Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. For those of you interested just go into www.howardgardner.com and learn all about this wonderfully enlightening theory of multiple intelligences.)
As regards perspective, did you ever try viewing a painting with your nose nearly up against the canvass? Or at least did you ever try viewing one from too close a position? That's it, you've guessed right - if you view a painting like that you will get it all out of perspective. Stand back and you will view the "whole" of the matter in hand. You will gain perspective. We all need perspective, otherwise we will bore, confuse, confound, and worst of all probably upset both ourselves and others. This young man had lost his perspective. What he needed was an adult to give him space to relax and achieve a certain amount of perspective - as much as he could after this period of crisis.
That's why we need our teachers to be well balanced. We need our adults and parents to be people who are into self-development, to be adults who are open and honest, sincere and realistic and are good listeners. We need on-going personal development. All you adults out there listen to me. In my 25 years of teaching I have known personally 5 or 6 suicides. Those were the ones I knew of - I'm sure there were many of which I did not know. So listen to your kids. For God's sake don't try to live out your hopes and dreams in and through them. Don't put undue pressure on them. (Please note the adjective qualifying the noun here - "undue" - I didn't say "no" pressure. No pressure can and does lead to laziness, sloppiness, drift and more drift and disaster too!) Be open, be honest, and listen, listen, listen. Please hear what they are saying and also what they may be afraid to say to you. With practice you will learn to hear also what they are not saying.
Here's wishing you priorty, perspective and balance in your life and in that of your friends and family!!!!