Dear My Nearly-Highschooler Son,
It’s not that I don’t get it. I do. I know what you’re going through all too well:
You take a seat in class, determined this will be the day you turn over a new leaf. You’re going to listen and absorb new material. You’re going to pay attention and take notes. You reach into your bag and pull out a notebook. It’s halfway through the semester and the only pages with writing are from the ‘Classroom Rules’ you were required to copy down the first day of class. You have a sinking feeling it doesn’t matter if you start today because you’ve kind of already ruined this class. You wonder if maybe you should start fresh next semester.
No, you tell yourself. Any day can be the start of new, positive habits. You can pull this class up at least a little bit. It’s worth trying.
You reach into your bag for a pen to take notes and find 3 broken pencils, a yellow highlighter, a pen you know doesn’t work and a crumbling pack of gum, among the wads of paper. Floating near the top is the form to buy a yearbook they handed out weeks ago. Looks like it’s due tomorrow. Remember to tell mom to write a check, remember to tell mom to write a check, you meditate.
The teacher begins speaking. You still haven’t found a viable writing utensil. You could ask the girl in front of you if she has one for you to borrow. She always seems well prepared. Or you could take one of the broken pencils to the sharpener really quick. Either seems like it would be disruptive to the class. And what if the teacher rolls his eyes and says, Really? Now you’re taking notes? What could possibly be the point now? That’s what you’d say to you.
No, you decide, instead, to sit quietly and pay extremely close attention to what he’s saying so you can soak it all in, and as soon as there’s a break, you’ll grab a pen and write down everything you learned before you forget it.
By this point the teacher is a few sentences into his lecture. He started with a joke and now he’s reviewing some stuff you already know. He’s giving some background info that’s clearly not going to be on any kind of a test. Where is the meat? The learning? What exactly are you supposed to be getting out of this right now? Couldn’t he just cut to the chase already?
Your mind starts to drift. You think about the novel you’re halfway through reading. You hope something interesting happens at lunch with your friends. You wonder if you should try to speak to your girlfriend in public today or if it will just embarrass her because she’s so shy. You brush your hair out of your eyes and try to remember if you washed it today in the shower or forgot and that’s why it looks so greasy.
Twenty minutes later the teacher wants you to break into small groups to work on a project and you realize you didn’t hear a single word he said. It was probably all in the text, though, you console yourself.
Homework feels like pointless busy-work. You always seem to miss when the teachers give due dates. You constantly worry you’re supposed to be working on something, so rather than face your assignments, you lose yourself in a book or your friends. You can make it up on the test, anyway, you tell yourself.
Does that sound right? I remember being that student. I remember feeling primarily unmotivated and bored. I remember being completely off-track and behind so quick into the school year that it felt pointless to even try to catch up. Sure, I was underperforming, but that was kind of part of my charm.
I know you hear the stories about me (and your grandpa) and it feels like a family legacy you can’t overcome. You’re not even really sure you want to. Neither of us twirls a sign on a corner days and works the Arby’s drive-thru nights just to make ends meet because we failed 8th grade social studies, after all. It’s in your blood to be a little bit of a half-ass when it comes to school. You’re a third-generation under-achiever!
The thing I wish I could convey to you without just sounding like Your Mom, is, if I could, I would do it all over exactly opposite. Your grandpa and I tell stories and laugh about how we didn’t even go to most of our classes in college, but when it comes down to it, I really regret all the things I missed out on because I was screwing around.
Looking back, I feel certain I could have put a relatively minimal amount of work into generally paying attention during class and completing homework tasks without largely diminishing my social life. I’ve come to realize pretty little follow through with my classes likely would have been enough to keep my grades within a range I wouldn’t have had to constantly worry about my parents being pissed at me. I actually could have probably gotten away with a lot more shenanigans in high school than I did if I’d just done my homework and stayed off their radar a little bit more. If I’d read the books assigned in my English classes (instead of rereading horror novels I’d already practically memorized), not only would I likely have enjoyed them, but I’m confident I’d now understand 50% more of the references on The Simpsons.
If I’d kept attending that dance class I registered for in college, instead of dropping it the second week because it was all the way across campus and I was too busy eating 4 meals a day at the cafeteria, I might have continued dancing instead of taking almost a decade off. If I’d put some effort into the assignments for my creative writing classes rather than literally using my roommate’s fridge poetry kit 20 minutes before class to write my poem, I might have actually learned something and be further along in my writing dreams than 35 years old with a blog and mere aspirations of a novel.
It’s hard to see it at the time, but high school and college are this crazy fertile ground of opportunities and creative energy. They’re both places full of people who only want to help you learn and do awesome things. Once you get to real life, those opportunities are still there, but you have to look really hard for them and only after you’re exhausted from horribly boring things like supporting yourself and doing laundry.
It took me a long time to see where I went wrong on all of this. Like a really long time. I just wish for you (sofa king much) that you could know this truth a little bit sooner than I did; soon enough to take advantage of your giant brain and some of the opportunities it can afford you if you simply teach it a tiny bit of discipline.
It’s really all I want for you.
Love you much (even though you’re an enormous pain in my ass),