I have mentioned two memorable walks in my usual online rambling (!), both of which I remember very fondly. There is a third walk which has recently resurfaced in my mind, and this one I experienced at school. I remember the days when we used to have lessons in classrooms (as opposed to lectures/turorials at university), and there were broadly speaking two scenarios: either the teachers have their own classrooms, which often function as their offices, and the students visit different classrooms from lesson to lesson, or the students stay in the same classroom, which is always arranged according to academic ranking, and the teachers teach in different classrooms as per their teaching assignments/duties. To put it simply: either the teachers move or the students move. Either way students and teachers have a dynamic relationship within a school environment, which can lead to a very healthy and fruitful relationship for both sides. I have no particular preference for either system, since, unlike some people, I don’t mind walking around the premise, even if my next destination is particularly far away, and I am not claustrophobic in that I am perfectly happy to study and work in the same room for long stretches of time, though, of course, with regular outdoor breaks which are necessary for recovery and rejuvenation. I also like the idea of competitive academic grouping, not only for the widely accepted reason that it is important to ensure academic equality and fairness in classroom teaching but also for the fact that it puts the students’ academic ability in perspective as they learn their place in their year group (i.e. top/middle/bottom), which can be very constructive if they react positively to it. Those below should be aware of the fact that they are lagging behind academically and strive to climb up the academic ladder and challenge those on top of them, while those on top should realise their responsibility as academic elites and continue to move forward as they feel the pressure and competition from those below them. This is, in my view, a very healthy academic environment where class-based competition drives all members of the year group for improvement and critical self-awareness. When I was at school in the UK, there was a somewhat unusual system in that there was little unification between academic subjects and one could be in the top set for one subject while in the bottom for another, which was not unusual at all as some people are naturally talented only in certain things. In my first year at school, I was in set four for most of the core subjects for which students were indeed classed across the board but in the top set for certain special subjects that had their own ranking systems. Two such subjects were mathematics and modern languages (Spanish), for which I was in the top set. I distinctly remember that in the second period on Wednesday right after the first break, I had Spanish followed by Maths and then History, so I would be in the top set for the first two classes and then back to set four in the third, which was interesting because I would be mingling with the academically best people in my year and then return to the company of my usual classmates in set four, who, with all due respect, were not academically as strong. I hate to say this, but I did feel like I was being demoted as I went from Maths to History, which was made more emphatic by the fact that the classrooms of the two history teachers for sets one and four in my year were right next to each other. I would hence walk in the same direction with the people in the top set as we exited Maths and enter the History classroom right next to theirs in which I would rejoin the people in set four. I remember this walk very clearly, as it gave me the motivation to work hard academically and propel myself upwards in my year group. Things worked out for me in the end, as for the rest of my time at school I was in the top set for most subjects and managed to do well academically and gain entry to Oxford. My academic journey is still going on as I am now doing academic research in linguistics. That walk really did change me for good.
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