Conquering Apathy: One Teacher’s Journey From Misfit to Role Model

I never revised properly for an exam.

That isn’t a boast and nor should it be considered one. I also wasn’t one of those people who could do no revision and absolutely ace a test. I’m not actually convinced people like that truly exist.

Behind every success is hard work, whether that was quietly revising out of sight or just generally paying attention at school and achieving while, to all intents and purposes, it appeared that you hadn’t broken a sweat.

The reason I never revised? Apathy.

I wasn’t always apathetic, I became that way because it was the easiest path to follow. That apathetic approach is one that already has an inbuilt excuse. If you do well, you can act as if it all comes naturally to you. If you do badly then you just say you didn’t revise and that’s why it didn’t work out for you.

So what is the other pathway? Panic and anxiety.

This might not be the case for everyone but it was for me. If I cared then there was a chance I’d fail something and not achieve something that really mattered to me. If I allowed myself to believe that an exam mattered then there’s a good chance that I’d be broken if it didn’t work out.

So what did I do?

I shirked responsibility and procrastinated. I piled books on a desk but largely ignored them. I never asked for help and as a result, I made the same mistakes continuously.

I never made a plan, I never truly committed and as a result I didn’t achieve my potential in school, college or university.

You went to university, so it worked out?

I’m a reasonably intelligent person and I did go to university but I also went to university and failed, badly. I was asked to leave a course as I just gave up completely. My apathy had reached its zenith, I believed. I went to a handful of lectures and no seminars, at all.

I was struggling with what I now realise was depression. I had lost all faith in myself and I was isolated and alone. Being apathetic in school had led to apathy in life, too.

What happened?

I eventually went back a year later and really threw myself into my learning. Throughout my first year I was top of my classes, attended every lecture and seminar and I was feeling unbelievably positive.

So, you went on and made something of yourself?

No, I reached my second year and attacked it with the same ferocity until I was given a bad piece of advice by a lecturer. I followed the advice and ended up scoring the lowest marks in the class on an essay. It shouldn’t have mattered but it floored me and I just stopped.

All momentum was lost and bit by bit I started to miss lectures and submit poor quality work. By the end of my third year, I was treading water. I got an average degree, when I should have got a great one.

But you got a degree, why does it matter?

It matters because you should aim to always achieve the very best you can. For me, I did not achieve my best. It was a substandard effort, when I was capable of so much more. Apathy had set in and I ultimately got what I deserved.

There is little satisfaction to be gained from achieving the bare minimum.

So, what did you do?

I did an ill-advised Masters. I failed that. I jobbed about in poorly paid jobs for years before finally pushing myself to become a teacher. I threw myself in, wholeheartedly, and left my training course as an “outstanding” trainee.

I got the first and only job I applied for and I owe it all to sheer hard work and finally asking others to help me out.

It’s a job I love but I lost the best part of a decade due to my complete apathy and fear of failure. My peers are so far ahead of me that it can be dispiriting.

However, caring about that isn’t a bad thing. I care because I want to be the very best. The fact that I care makes me realise that I have at least learned something from all my poor choices.

What advice would you give to those sitting exams?

Try. Do not take the zero effort approach because you are afraid to fail or because you don’t care. Don’t be influenced by your peer group because your results are yours. Fight against apathy and never be afraid to fail.

Failure is natural, it happens to us all. No exam truly dictates your life and there are always opportunities to recover and learn. It is not a bad thing to care or to really try and fail.

There is a great satisfaction to be gained from knowing that you did all you could.

So, if I care how do I cope with exams?

Always make some effort. Some effort is always better than nothing at all. Half an hour just reading some notes is better than no work.

Push yourself to do something. Fight the urge to just watch TV. Follow a path that offers some resistance.

Ask for help. Your teachers, believe it or not, want to help you. Ask them for a past paper, go to extra revision sessions (all schools run them) or just explain that you are worried.

Also, talk to your parents, your siblings or your friends. Exams aren’t fun but you are not the only one doing them. I always tried to do everything by myself and that isn’t helpful. It’s good to talk.

Sleep and exercise. Don’t work yourself into the ground and work through the night. Make sure you sleep. I’d also suggest exercise. Go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, a fight club. You can now revise on the go, if you want. There are podcasts for every subject imaginable but also nothing beats just getting outside into the countryside.

Have a plan and have a goal. It’s always better to have an aim in life. Know where you want to go and pursue that aim.

If you can, enjoy it. Learning is joyful. Life is enriched by learning new things. Take pleasure in the work you are doing.

Avoid apathy. It’s not cool not to care about things. It is just a method used for survival in tough situations.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash


This article was written anonymously

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