I work two jobs. One as an admin assistant in an office. The other as an English and Maths tutor for an agency.
My second job means I spend a lot of time working with children and teenagers, and it often makes me think back to when I was in their shoes.
Today I was sat with a girl who wanted help with her GCSE English. She opened up to me and my boss about how nervous she was about doing her exams, how she was unsure of how well she would do. I remember taking GCSE's very seriously, and shared her fears when I was her age (15-16). Looking back, it's easy to say that I shouldn't have worried so much. At the time, getting good GCSE's felt like the most important thing in the world. As soon as I got to sixth-form, no-one asked me about my GCSE's, and although they helped me get in to the college they didn't do much else.
High school is a funny and fascinating time, in that sense. It's like this little bubble, where you're not yet an adult but are desperate to be, not a child yet still want a certain degree of comfort and 'mothering' (for want of a better world). You're trying to disciver yourself but at the same time you desperately want to fit in. Being 'popular' is often the most important thing.
Of course it's not unnatural to want to be liked, but there is something strange about high school's particular brand of 'popularity'. If you're a girl who's either good at sports or ridiculously 'girly' then you're likely to be considered 'popular'. If you're a boy, you need to be good at sports or funny.
The thing is, from where I sat anyway, being popular never looked that much fun. There seemed, to me at least, to be a lot of in fighting, the kind of drama you'd expect in a teen soap rather than on a playing field.
I was in this weird zone of not being popular in the traditional sense, but I was pretty well respected by most of the popular crowd and never got an hassle from them the way some of my peers did. I think my school year was pretty out of the ordinary when it came to the traditional popular/nerd divide. There were a lot of the popular crowd in the upper sets, and there was a certain degree of respect between the two groups. At the end of the day, both wanted the same thing - to get decent GCSE's and be well liked.
If you want some perspective on my school life, YouTube's Lucy and Lydia were two of the popular girls in my year. As popular girls go, they were pretty tame, and a pretty accurate reflection of the group as a whole. But they seemed to have more falling's out, tiffs, and silly fights than any of the people in my friendship group.
I don't really know what all of this was trying to say. Except, perhaps, that high school is a unique experience, which is probably why there is so much literature, film, and music about it. And that GCSE's, whilst sort of important, aren't nearly as important for the person as they are for the school (provided you're predicted about a C grade in English, Maths and Science, that is). And finally, that popularity is never really about the size of your friendship group but the quality of the friends in it.