I’m sitting in on a meeting of educators this morning as they discuss engaging the seniors at our school in the seminar they have to present before they can graduate. One of them mentions a reality that resonated with me, “…and we have to watch to see that they don’t become frustrated and shut down.”
There probably isn’t any other phrase in my educational experience that describes me. Wait, there is one more: “He becomes bored easily and daydreams often.” But i digress.
I wasn’t a good student. Part of that’s because i’m not smart. The other part is that i could be too smart. My mom recalls that at 4 years old, i had begun to teach myself how to read. On the other hand, i remember struggling with the ability to say words with the “fr” pairing. “Free” was “Three” and there was always something “three” in the box of cereal. Conventional teaching didn’t work for me. Brute memorization and regurgitation were my antithesis, yet this was what was expected of all of us. To a large degree, you have to have memorization and regurgitation to progress, but where i shone was critical thinking and analysis. When i was faced with a challenge i couldn’t get my conceptual fingers around, i slammed into that wall of rage and once there, did nothing but want the world around me to feel the same angst that i did. I wasn’t an angry kid- i just knew how to rage. There is a difference.
The result is that administrators, teachers and my parents decided on remedial classes in some subjects for me. Math in particular. For a while, i was dosed with Retalin and while i remember my grades improving, my parents didn’t push the drug on me for long. Knowing what we know about Retalin these days, i am grateful. To contrast, i was in AP English during my senior year. Lord, i must have made my teachers bicker in the staff room as to whether i was a derilect or spooky intelligent. In truth, i’m more one than the other. Which one i lean towards is dependent on what kind of day i’m having.
I do not blame anyone for those remedial or “fundamentals of… (insert subject here)” classes. Part of that’s because i’m well past the age where i get to blame people in my past for my present or my future. The other part is that as i’ve worked around educators for the last few years, i’ve learned something about their training. Teachers don’t become teachers because they can simply teach a subject. They’re councilors, they’re strategists and they’re capable of recognizing abuse: emotional, physical and substance. They don’t adopt a “one size fits all” curriculum and resources exist to accommodate the realities that a diverse student body lives with. And each and every one of the teachers that i’ve spoken with are always looking for the ones that drop off and think of ways to bring them back on board. In my school, there’s even a sub school that specializes in those interested in pursuing the arts. Their scores are high and the classes are brutal. My head hurts every time i have to sit in the science teachers room because i start having flashbacks of struggling with my college science classes. As an aside, i’ve never seen a group of students that are more comfortable in who they are and what they are not.
And while i may be wrong, i don’t believe i am. The science of education has progressed so far in the lasat two or three decades that what i grew up with in the 70’s and 80’s seems medieval at times. Again, this isn’t to cast blame anywhere but to say that with the progress of statistical analysis and a better understanding of how multiple approaches to a single topic can yield better results than a “one size fits all” approach has given educators of today a better set of tools to draw from.
As for myself, i can’t help but to wonder what would have happened to me in an environment such as our arts academy has. Instead of being ostracized and a pariah that was socially retarded and all angsty, i might have actually grown up with a little bit of confidence. For the record, i did eventually get that confidence. The price tag was brutal and i had to destroy a friendship in the process but that’s a story for some other time.