Today I got the feedback on my MA dissertation, which I submitted three weeks ago, and spent a good part of the early summer writing (it was torture). My tutor kindly headed her email as “Excellent dissertation”, so I knew it was OK from the off, and I made myself read the feedback comments from both markers before I turned to the mark (because we value feedback we can learn from more than we value marks, don’t we?).

Well, the feedback was very positive, encouraging and made suggestions as to how I might develop my dissertation into published academic papers if I choose to. So I felt great about that. And then I turned to the mark. Which was 82.

82?? That’s, like, a starred first, isn’t it? Stunning (I am stunned –). And thrilled. And the truth is that the mark does matter to me. The external validation does count for something. I would be less satisfied if I had only received the written comments, even though they were so positive and constructive.

When I (or a member of the family) does well, I experience a curious tension, that I’m sure will be familiar to many reading this. I both want to tell people, and I am concerned about appearing to boast. I am proud and embarrassed. And (for myself – less so for other family members) explanations which minimise the achievement flit across my mind. Fooled them yet again, didn’t I? ‘Course I did well – I wasn’t simultaneously holding down a teaching post, unllike other MA in Education students, was I? ‘Course I did well – my tutor was one of the markers, so it was in her interests to mark my work favourably. And even – ‘course I did well, because I am married to a Prof at the uni and so the markers couldn’t really mark me down —

Time not to be so British. Let me say it to myself, loud and clear:

“Yes, you had plenty of time to give to your dissertation. And yes, you worked bloody hard, and put a huge amount of effort into it. And although you find it torture, you are a bloody good writer. And that’s because, one way or another, you have always written – sometimes easily, but sometimes with great struggle (oh, and you’ve read quite a lot of good writing, too). You did well. Very well. It’s OK to be proud!”

Although my research topic had nothing to do with it, I think also there was some passion in my dissertation which may have communicated itself to my readers, and this relates to my breast screening/diagnosis experience. The passion was about power relationships in education. Because I felt, and still feel, that the medical establishment abused its power in getting me (ill-informed) to go for screening, I tried my utmost to make sure that I was as transparent as I could be with the school I worked in, the tutors I discussed my work with, and (most of all) the vulnerable little boys who were at the centre of my project. I wanted them to understand what was going on, I wanted them to have real choices about their involvement, and I wanted their views to come across. Ethics, you see – trying to ensure that those on the weaker side of the power relationship are, at the very least, not harmed, and might even benefit.

I still think it’s a bit boastful to put this post up. But what’s the worst that can happen? Here goes.


Mindset and the Memory Box

As we get closer to moving house, I have been doing some sorting out. Today I retrieved a box of memorabilia from the garage. My life started to flash before my eyes —

There’s a note from a parishioner congratulating my Dad on my birth in Spring 1959. He approved of the “good English names” I had been given.

There’s a big chronological gap (little early childhood stuff in this box, except for a few photos which made it onto a montage done – I think – for my 40th birthday).

Then there’s the religious novel, written in turquoise ink when I was thirteen. One draft only. What confidence! And a short story which the mother of a friend of mine (an editor I think) got quite excited about.

There are the school reports. When I think of the tracking and monitoring that goes on now, they seem superficial and skeletal. No one had heard of formative assessment. I don’t think my teachers had any imposed targets to meet, and nor did I. I wonder if my learning was any the worse for that?

There are a few essays from my sixth form years. There’s my university dissertation (you know, the one about TS Eliot – see my post from September,”Raid on the Inarticulate”). And the one from my PGCE year on children’s reading (easier to write, I remember). Today I didn’t dare read any of this writing, though, because I am so sure it would compare unfavourably with what my daughters produce now, at a similar age and stage. So what’s that about then?

A lot of my husband’s work is based around Mindset Theory. The wisdom goes that you can develop more of a “growth” (as distinct from a “fixed”) mindset – that is, learn to welcome and work with mistakes, take risks, and choose challenges, not safety, in your learning. You see yourself as being able to develop. Your skills and abilities aren’t fixed.

I don’t know if anybody has thought about how your mindset affects the way you view your past. The Eliot dissertation got a 2:2 (with no feedback comments at all – unbelievable), and the PGCE one got very favourable feedback (no formal marks given at all – equally unbelievable). None of my sixth form essays ever got lower than an A-. That must mean that there’s a chance they’re at least OK. But the fact that I even need to look at the marks suggests to me that I’m still looking for external validation. And I’m still so convinced they’re c*** that I can’t open the folders. So the question is, why am I so hard on my former self? Does it matter if my writing was bad, all that time ago? If it was, can I not celebrate my progress since, rather than beat myself up?

There’s going to be at least one more post about this Memory Box. I was going to take it and store it in the new house (at the back of the big new cupboard). But there’s more — I think I need to keep it out for a bit.

Maybe by the next time I post, I will have had the courage to do some reading. Watch this blog.