My Experience of Education Part 2 by Kirsten McCrossan, 31


…in maths I sat beside a girl called Alana. She was really annoying and would not stop talking. After a few maths lessons the two of us wouldn’t shut up. This was a friendship that would shape both of our lives.

Moving to Belmont Academy in Ayr didn’t really feel that daunting. A group of girls were really welcoming to me and instantly took me under their wing. As lovely as these girls were, I didn’t really find they were on my wavelength and I soon made another group of friends. It was a culture shock moving to this school. Whereas in Prestwick Academy music was the cool in-thing and PE wasn’t that big a deal; at Belmont the music department was old and decrepit at the top of a staircase and PE was busting and vibrant with teams for everything. I immediately felt intimidated in the PE department. I wasn’t ‘sporty’ at all and the type of things I had done that were active such as aerobics and dancing, were not available. I was glad that I hadn’t come here with a saxophone as I don’t think I would have flourished at all. I had turned up in my Doc Martin’s which were the in-thing at Prestwick Academy – and they were NOT any kind of thing at Belmont. I got a proper slagging for my shoes.

Nothing grabbed me at this school. I did quite well in English and Science in second year. I got the joint highest marks in my science class for our test and the other boy got nominated for an award but I just kept quiet that I had got the same marks as him. I was bored in most of my classes. In music because I was so advanced at recorder compared to the rest of the class – I got put into a rehearsal room by myself to practice more advanced pieces. That was that. When recorder was finished we went onto keyboard, which was basically the whole class sitting with headphones on playing all the demos on the keyboard. It actually upsets me now to think that was a music ‘lesson’.

The one thing I do remember was in Modern Studies all the second years were given a personal project to do on Ayr. We were to produce a brochure each on our home town. It was great. The whole year got really into it – going to the Tourist Information Shop and collecting brochures (this was before the internet was available) and interviewing people – the teachers were overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiasm and we were all awarded certificates at assembly. It was so great to be doing something we could wholly relate to and to be doing our own thing.

Then came the time to pick our Standard Grade subjects. Twelve or thirteen and making choices that may affect us long-term. I had been put off music after our dead in the water lessons so didn’t even consider that choice. I hadn’t enjoyed any of my subjects apart from English and Modern Studies. My dad kept telling me that I had to take two science based subjects for some reason or other and he was also telling me not to take OIS (Office & Information Studies) because that the Higher version of it was not recognised by universities.

I had enjoyed science in second year but I knew I wasn’t a science person. But it was drilled into me to take two sciences so I took Biology and Chemistry. I took Modern Studies. I took French. I really wanted to learn how to use a fax machine so I took OIS (we never learned how to use a fax machine). Maths and English were a must. I didn’t mind Maths and I enjoyed English. There was a little column at the end where you could do art, PE or music as an extra subject with no exams. Art hadn’t grabbed me in second year and I now hated PE so I opted to sit with the headphones on at the keyboard for another two years.

It didn’t take me too long to learn that while I had loved the general knowledge element of ‘science’ in first and second year that biology and chemistry as subjects were not for me. I just remember sitting on the tall uncomfortable cream and brown stools and looking at the biology teacher droning on and on. The chemistry teacher was much better but I just wasn’t gripped. It wasn’t my thing.

French wasn’t engaging me and at that point neither was English or Maths. Modern Studies was enjoyable but that was because the teacher seemed genuinely interested in what she was teaching. I didn’t like school. I didn’t like going and I didn’t like being there. I was bored stiff. I constantly got into trouble for talking during class and I got isolated from my friends by the teachers. At one point I was put on a behaviour timetable in English because I couldn’t concentrate. Part of being on the behaviour timetable was to work in a room by myself. I got loads done and told the teacher I worked well by myself. She scoffed and shouted at me – hah! Where are you going to work when you’re older? A convent?! And walked away.

In English our class was in three rows of chairs that faced the teacher. I was moved to a table by myself that faced out of the window behind everyone else. Our teacher Mrs Tosh seemed like she couldn’t stand me. To be fair, I must have been an absolute pain or I wouldn’t have been moved into isolation by most teachers. One day, Mrs Tosh was trying to teach the class about a poem about a sparrow. She was really into it and the class was just staring back at her blankly. I understood what she was trying to say and pitched in the conversation from my table at the back. She looked and sounded so relieved that someone was getting the poem. After that I would say I became one of her favourites and she put me back in with the class. She tried to teach the class to improvise once which in hindsight was the worst attempt at teaching improvisation ever. She was just expecting that people would know what to do.

Meanwhile, over in maths I sat beside a girl called Alana. She was really annoying and would not stop talking. After a few maths lessons the two of us wouldn’t shut up. This was a friendship that would shape both of our lives.

Alana was telling me that she was in the school musical ‘The Boyfriend’. I said that I wanted to do drama and that I had thought about joining Borderline Youth Theatre. Alana said that her mum wanted her to join that too and one thing led to another and we arranged to go along one Saturday.

We went along to the youth theatre for a month or so but it shut down and we were sent a letter telling us about another available group Ayr Youth Theatre.

Meanwhile back at school, there was a poster up for a third year pupil’s drama club. Alana, our friend Linsey and I all wanted to go – but we thought that there was no way anyone else in our year would want to go to drama. We turned up, I think it was a Wednesday, in the lecture theatre for the first meeting of the third year drama group. We were the only three there, and we found this hysterical. So much so that we wouldn’t stop laughing. Poor Miss Hanson was attempting to speak to us but we just sat laughing our heads off. Alana told her that people were probably not there because Wednesday was a night where there were lots of good programmes on the TV. Miss Hansen looked highly unimpressed. She didn’t give up though and opened the group up to second years too and soon we had a decent sized drama group. I should mention at this point that Alana is now at the age of 31, my closest friend. My soul-sister. We speak every day and know each other inside out.

So this is where drama has been introduced to my life. In my normal schooling I was plodding along. I knew that I had a love for English and my eventual bonding with the teacher made the class a lot more bearable. In maths, Alana and I had been separated and were made to sit at opposite diagonal corners of the class so that we wouldn’t talk. We also sat next to each other in biology. Our teacher Mrs West couldn’t stand us and she told us so. I sat at the teacher’s table in French to stop me talking. Chemistry I sat and watched the bus coming down the hill from the window every fifteen minutes and wished I was on it, going somewhere.

I sat for five hours a day being constantly muted by each of my teachers. I bet I was annoying; but I wasn’t bad. I had energy, I had ideas and I had opinions but I was told to be quiet all the time. I could not take in the information being taught to me most of the time. I just could not engage. I was fed up and bored and I was thirteen years old. I needed an outlet and I needed to be allowed to speak.

We went along to Ayr Youth Theatre not knowing that it would change our lives. As soon as we walked in we seemed to fit in. Every Saturday it was a ninety minute workshop. There was a basic vocal warm-up followed lots of improvisation and then some groups would get to perform. It was a very simple set-up but you could expel energy, you could communicate with others and everyone naturally followed the discipline code without ever having to be asked to be quiet more than once. I immediately felt at home and got involved in any drama projects I could. I was given lots of opportunities at youth theatre. Before I knew it, I was elected to be on the young person’s committee, I was on the marketing committee and I was training to become a workshop assistant. I wished that I could be there every day and I would get really sad at the end of a Saturday when I knew I had to wait a whole week to be with my youth theatre friends and carrying out my youth theatre responsibilities.

In the Easter holidays when I was supposed to be studying for my Standard Grades, I sneaked off to help paint bits of set for our latest production. I also once pretended I was studying in the library at school but I was really writing a press release for our show that was later picked up and published in our local paper. I was working, I was learning and I was exerting myself but not where I was ‘supposed’ to be.

And this was only third year at high school; there was a lot more to come.

To be continued…