Louise O’ Boyle shares her experience of repeating 5th year with missy.ie. and tells us why it was the best decision she ever made.
“I’m actually repeating fifth year” I admitted for what felt like the one hundredth time that day.
Starting over in a new school I naively thought I could just lie and avoid having to admit what I thought was own failure and stupidity.
However, my plan to have a fresh start was ruined almost five minutes into the tour of my new school when I met two girls from my old school, who had also decided to leave.
Immediately I had my excuses ready to go, ‘I was already too young for 5th year. I picked the wrong subjects and I was so behind in Irish and…’ the list goes on. I found myself repeating this list of excuses near daily for the next six months, this wasn’t too much of a problem because I’d been reciting it to everyone since the minute I decided to repeat. But then I realised that they were in the same boat too.
The rear of repeating 5th Year
I don’t know if it’s that repeating 5th Year is such an unusual thing, or that I’m a severe over-thinker, but at the time I was paranoid that people would think I was stupid and lazy. That fear didn’t form on it’s own; people at my old school had ‘jokingly’ said a lot of things about me repeating 5th Year and called me names that are honestly too offensive to type.
At the time of writing this there is a lot of confusion and anxiety over the future of the Leaving Certificate due to the Coronavirus. This worry and uncertainty has reminded me of exactly how I had felt this time last year. Terrified.
Making the decision was hard
I was convinced that if I sat my Leaving Cert this year (in 2020) that I’d have no future – which I know is a completely overdramatic mindset that doesn’t acknowledge the various other career paths which do not require a good Leaving Cert.
However, when you spend the majority of your day sitting in a classroom where you have absolutely no idea what’s going on and despite your best efforts you just can’t pass a test well, it becomes incredibly easy to feel worthless and give up on school.
I’ll admit it was a rough time when I made this decision but I had felt so done; I was looking for a fresh start. I had become so disillusioned with my life at that point, which I know is a very dramatic statement to make as a seventeen year old whose life has barely begun.
Everything changes, but nothing changes
In my old school I felt invisible. When you live in a small town and go to school with people you’ve known your whole life people tend to stick labels on you and rarely check to see if they still apply as time goes on.
At sixteen I had changed a lot from the strange, overly confident first year that debated with her business teacher and had no friends. I had bleached my hair, gotten rid of my braces and my once loud personality had gone. Every time I sat in a class where I wasn’t surrounded by my close circle of friends it was like I morphed into a more timid ‘please don’t make me speak in class I will cry’ version of myself. It didn’t matter to these people that I had completely changed I was still ignored and it was really disheartening.
This isn’t a story about bullying because I wasn’t bullied or anything close to it. I’m so grateful for my friends from my old school, but the overall atmosphere was cold and unwelcoming. Some of the girls had watched Mean Girls one too many times growing up and had somehow morphed into miniature Regina Georges.
I knew I had picked the wrong subjects
Regardless of Reginas and drama, I was doomed from the start of 5th Year by my mother, who bless her heart, had nothing but good intentions.
I’m honestly not sure why she believed that I, with my two best Junior Cert results being English and History, would flourish by taking Accountancy, Economics and Business. But she swore that these were the most “practical” subjects to take and so forced me to choose them.
I knew this was a mistake when shortly after we submitted the options forms. Even my Maths teacher said I shouldn’t choose subjects I didn’t enjoy. I am not a Maths person or a statistics person. I enjoyed Business, but my brain was not built for balancing profit and loss accounts or calculating GDPs. So, from the start of 5th year I was struggling.
I’ll admit when I don’t enjoy a subject I’m less than motivated to put the work in, so my Christmas exam results were extremely, horrifically, catastrophically bad. That may sound over-dramatic, but I got THIRTEEN PERCENT in Accountancy! I had actually tried, I swear – but honestly that grade broke me because THIRTEEN PERCENT!!
Someone that has never sat in an Accountancy class could probably sit that exam and get thirteen percent by guessing. It was at that point that I made the decision on repeating 5th Year, as it was too late to change subjects. I also felt so overwhelmed by how behind I was.
I needed a fresh start
The decision to repeat was difficult on its own, but I knew under no circumstances did I want to stay and repeat in my old school; I knew I would have to repeat 5th Year in a different school.
All my doubts about the new school literally vanished after my first interview. I left actually wanting to go to the school and fearful that I wouldn’t get in. The idea that I could get a fresh start had really sunk in and I was beyond excited at the idea.
The rest of that school year flew by as I made peace with my decision, but it was hard to accept that I wouldn’t get to graduate with my longtime friends. I floated through exams with the carefree attitude of someone who knew she had a second chance.
Adjusting to a new school was hard, but worth it
After a long summer of denial and avoiding thinking or talking about my new school, I was an anxious mess when the end of August finally rolled around. The morning of my tour with the fellow new girls was spent rushing around my house frantically looking for my new uniform (which I have since described in Spanish Oral Exams as being ‘the ugliest looking green colour I have ever seen’) and pleading with my mother to return me to my old school. But the first day wasn’t too bad.
I won’t lie; the first few weeks were a huge adjustment. A new school filled with people who have known each other for years is easily one of the loneliest places in the world. I spent my first few weeks hopping between lunch tables and friend groups, being pitied by some of the more empathic students but even the kindest school prefect can’t disguise the awkwardness of inviting the new girl to a table of unwelcoming seventeen year old girls.
At my absolute lowest point I was so hellbent on avoiding the lunch hall I genuinely spent the lunch hour hiding in a bathroom, which is as soul destroying as it sounds.
Despite my social pitfalls at this time I had never been doing so well in school in my life – I was spending hours working on my History essays and I answered so many questions in that class that other girls asked me how I knew so much. The euphoria of being excited to get a test back and see my result instead of cringing as I looked at another failure made up for any problems I was having at that time.
The best decision I ever made was to repeat
After those rough first weeks I started to make actual friends that have made the rest of the year so worth the hassle of repeating 5th Year. I’m beyond grateful that I ended up in the same classes as some of the funniest girls I have ever met and who have quickly become some of my closest friends. I would never have believed back in September that I would have ended up meeting the girls that I spent lockdown Facetiming and texting about how we *might* actually miss school just a little bit – solely out of boredom I swear!
A fresh start was honestly the best idea I’ve ever had. I don’t dread the future anymore, I’m excited for it. I’m actually prepared for exams instead of letting the fear of failure take over and giving up. I have so much more confidence in myself after this year. Gone are the self deprecating jokes I used to make about myself; instead I’m more open about how hard I have worked this year (for someone that once proudly did absolutely no homework for at least a few months, the fact that I even study for tests now is insanity). Last year if I got 60 per cent in a test it was a cause for serious celebration, but this year I got 100 percent in a test – which I’m still not over, 6 months later!
A lot can change
Last year I felt hopeless and extremely inadequate. I had no aspirations or goals and absolutely no self esteem about my schoolwork or myself in general. I desperately needed a massive change in my life and by repeating 5th Year I got a second chance, both at school and life.
This time last year I would never have thought I was a capable enough writer to share this, and yet here I am. A lot can change in a year, you just have to have the courage to change.
Read More: A Guide To Choosing Leaving Cert Subjects