Discovering the Relevance of Words
I don’t remember ever having the choice, or thought process, that I would do anything other than go to college after high school. There were moments where I wondered about some other possibilities, but the reality was simple: I was going to college, and I was going to get a degree, and a job within that area of study. My mom was a teacher, and ever since I can remember I was helping with lesson plans, and with her classroom set up, and tutoring students, and working with her during summer school. I enjoyed teaching, and around the age of twelve, it became obvious to me that I was going to be a teacher. I think for a moment I thought about psychology, and for a longer moment about being a rock star, but teaching was in my blood, and I’m stubborn, so that was my final decision.
I hated high school. I did well enough to keep my parents off my back, and to allow my teachers to understand that I definitely didn’t lack intelligence, but not well enough to ever earn honor role, or ever pretend like I was going to be one of the super smart kids to head out to an ivy league wasteland of snobbery and excess. By my junior year, I had figured out how to work the system. I missed 87 days of school because I “had mono, and just never really recovered.” At least that’s what I told the attendance lady, and since I was her 1st period aide, I was able to avoid the parent phone calls, and snag a few pads of excuse slips in order to assure that I would never get caught. I was bright enough to call my teachers and ask for my homework so that I could keep my grades above sea level, and I made sure that I never missed more than two days in a row. It was important to at least attempt to keep up appearances. I was just bored in my classes. It wasn’t that I was skipping school to go do drugs, or drink, or party, or do anything stupid. In fact, I skipped school to hang out at Powell’s Books, or Django Records, or the library. Sometimes I would even let my boss know that I was skipping school, and work a few extra hours. I just didn’t see the point in wasting my time at school if I could do the homework, get decent grades, and still do the things I wanted. I got through junior year just fine, and had taken enough night school and summer school classes – all by choice – so that when it came to senior year, I only needed a few classes, so I was done with the school day by 10am, and ready to move on with life.
The rest of the story is pretty basic. I went to a Pacific University on the weight of my perfect ACT scores, and my college entrance essay. I enjoyed my college experience immensely with all the normal college kid things, graduated with honors, and immediately enrolled in Pacific’s MAT program so I could get my grad degree and start my life as a teacher. How drab.
Somehow, I now teach the youth of today, and most of those “yutes” (Come on! You’ve seen My Cousin Vinny!) don’t give a crap about college. In fact, most of them would turn out to be incredible industrial workers, or carpenters, or mechanics, or Boeing engineers, or any hands-on type of worker. Unfortunately, the school system doesn’t see it that way. Unfortunately, students are forced to sit through classes they don’t care about, don’t want to be in, and frankly, don’t need for their future. But with the current system, if they don’t pass their classes, they can’t get that piece of paper, and walk across the stage, and figure out which junior college to attend before using absolutely none of those skills to do the job that they want to do, and waste several years getting to the job that works for them – and some of them getting so lost along the way, that they never return to their original goal. It’s sad.
I’ve never been a “college-or-else” teacher. I don’t think it’s necessary. I wish students were allowed to leave high school their sophomore years and begin apprenticeships in things they actually care about. Those who want to stay in school and work toward a degree in arts and letters would stay in high school, and venture to college, but beyond that, what’s the point? We’re wasting our most valuable resource – teenagers.
I know this website deals with mostly language, so I’ll end by bringing it back to that. Today, a student of mine named Andrew, brought this beautiful poem to my attention. It’s by a slam poet named Suli Breaks. It was just one more reminder that my students – even those who aren’t paying a ton of attention to the normal educational system – are truly paying attention to the education that they want to have. The school system is broken, and as a teacher, I feel that it is my job to fix it from the inside out.
Here is the poem, by Suli Breaks, called “Why I Hate School, But Love Education.”
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