Spare a thought for year 12 students around Australia – 2020 has been tough

Ned Manning
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

As the end of a year that has been like no other approaches, when we have all suffered all sorts of deprivations and dislocations, year 12 students around the country prepare to jump the last hurdle: their final year exams.

Year 12 students began 2020 full of hope and expectation. Once Covid hit they were forced to dampen both – or, at the very least, re-orient them. They might have received their personalised year 12 jerseys but wearing them around the house doesn’t quite have the same frisson as parading around the school in them.

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Because in March, as all our worlds were tipped upside down, year 12 students around the country were sent home. There would be no physical “school” for them for the foreseeable future. In some states, lockdown was mercifully short. In others there was a lockdown, then back to school, then another lockdown. This would have tested the patience of any saint, and it has certainly been an extraordinarily challenging situation for our year 12s to cope with.

In lockdown, those who could, continued their lessons on Zoom. This was not only challenging for the year 12s but also for their teachers. Take the personal out of teaching and it’s not the same. What makes a teacher/student relationship so special is its personal, individual nature. Teaching, especially in year 12, doesn’t only take place in the classroom. In some cases, it barely takes place in the classroom. Teaching takes place in the corridors, on the playing fields, in the line for the canteen. Anywhere where a teacher and student can strike up a conversation.

These exchanges between teachers and students often unlock deeper, meaningful conversations. Quite apart from anything else, they let the student know that the teacher is taking an interest in them. They have been noticed and so have their problems.

Trying to do this on Zoom is clearly impossible. Not many students are going to reveal their vulnerabilities in public and almost certainly not in front of their peers. It is important for a lot of teenagers to give off an air of invulnerability when mixing with the year group. Many want to give the impression of being bullet-proof when dealing with their parents too. It is their teacher that they turn to when they drop their guard. That’s the special bond that students quite often share with their teachers. It is inviolable.

This is partly what makes teaching year 12 so special and, at the same time, so challenging. The stakes in such a relationship couldn’t be higher. No amount of paperwork or “outcome achieving” can ever capture the unique, often life-changing exchange of trust that year 12 students can share with their teachers. The necessary formal nature of Zoom exchanges has robbed many of our year 12s of the rapport they might otherwise have developed with their teachers. Many will inevitably fall between the cracks because of it.

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Year 12 is the pinnacle of a student’s school years. It is the Everest they have looked up to since year 7. With Covid it was like a year’s worth of aspirations were swept away from them. Some lost the opportunity to compete in their last ever swimming and athletics carnivals. For most these carnivals weren’t about breaking records or getting to state. They were a chance to put on the house colours, chant the house chants, go in races and have fun. Quite a few who haven’t been to a carnival since year 10 make sure they don’t miss their last one ever. It’s all part of the year 12 rites of passage.

School productions have been cancelled. Concert recitals have been scrapped. Choirs have been silenced. Farewell dinners, formals and, of course, schoolies won’t be happening in most cases.

Almost at every turn, their last “this or that” as a high school student has been denied them. This has been particularly cruel as many have spent so many years of looking forward to signing off on a myriad of final year activities. The weeks leading up to their final exams have sheeted this home as final assemblies have been canned. That last opportunity to take the stage as a year 12 student to receive certificates in front of the school has been denied. In most schools they haven’t even been able to farewell the rest of the school.

It’s been tough.

So, spare a thought for 2020’s year 12 cohort around the country. They’re going to be feeling pretty empty when the exams are done.

Let’s hope that as parents and teachers we can find ways to make up for their loss. It’s not going to be easy.