My Hate Affair With School

boredomGuilty as charged!  Yes, I’ve now stooped to a disgraceful new depth — duping you into reading a message with a title that is patently NOT true.  In my own defense, let me say that although I didn’t outright hate school, I most definitely did NOT like it.    Some educator, huh?!

This disclosure won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s read my initial post.  They know that, to put it mildly, my school experience got off to an inauspicious start.   Escaping out the window one’s first day of kindergarten does not bode well for a love affair with school.

Still, inquiring readers may want to know why school generally failed to thrill me.  It came down to two personal qualities.  I was pretty smart and an absolute spaz. Trust me, this combination is not a good one.  Let me explain.

Somewhat Smart, Seriously Spastic

In school, we were expected to do two things:  sit still and learn.  For me, sitting quietly was excruciating.  My body operated in round-the-clock overdrive.  As a result, I became chronically stressed, trying to harness my boundless energy for a sole and unsatisfying purpose:  parking myself in an uncomfortable school desk all day long.

Most of my time in school was spent thinking that my head would burst.  Not a single school day passed without an agonizing  headache.  Somehow no one seemed to notice.

In elementary school, when recess thankfully came each morning and afternoon, I essentially exploded onto the playground like a raving maniac.  I would run myself deliriously into a profuse sweat even in the heart of winter.  Then I’d drag myself back to the classroom, forlorn and resentful about the prolonged stationary torture that awaited.  And it didn’t get much better as I got older either.  My only relief then came twice a week in phys ed classes.

But here’s the thing.  I did sit still and I did learn—for one simple reason.  I loved my mother and father deeply and wanted them to be proud of me.  Nothing in the world mattered more.  And the good news, I guess, is that I managed to receive some pretty good grades along the way.   Maybe that’s why no one noticed my struggles.

Anyway, my other “problem” qualifies as ironic.  Being kind of bright, I tended to learn stuff quickly.  In no way am I trying to portray myself as some sort of brainiac (although my mind did have an overdrive of its own).  But, for the most part, I’d grasp concepts well before most or at least many of the other kids.  And then you know what I’d have to do?  Sit there and suffer some more.

What’s a Spaz To Do?

fever_rocknroll_guitar_flickrEventually the situation deteriorated to the point that decisive action became essential.  Thus began my new life’s mission – mastering the fine art of pretending to be deathly ill (or at least too sick to go to school).  This was done according to a complex algorithm I had discerned:  the level of ailing must be directly proportional to the amount of convincing my mother would appear to need on any given day.

In other words, I was the original Ferris Bueller.  He clearly stole from me the classic line (always muttered while lying in bed with eyes weakly held open), “Mother, is that YOU?”   Yessir, that little gem came right out of the “Official Bill Henk’s Surefire Guide To Softening Up Parents for Sick Days.”

Now get a load of this one.  Having lousy attendance made school more interesting for me – well, when I was there anyway.  It turns out that the challenge of getting good grades after missing so much instruction actually motivated me.

It is only now, several decades after graduating from high school and being in no apparent danger of having my degree rescinded, that I’m finally  ready to come clean.

Less Than Stellar Attendance

My school record will show that I missed nearly 30 days per year.  But I purposely made sure that I never quite reached this high water mark.  Thirty absences reprsented the magic cut score for repeating a grade, and I was not about to put myself through that nightmare.

It gets even richer.  My pattern unfolded the same way each and every year with an idiosyncratic twist.  Keep in mind that being spastic had the one healthy outcome of translating into success as a basketball player.

So, by expertly deploying the brilliant principles from my very own  handbook, I managed to feign illness “well” enough to:  (1) miss about 15 days before each basketball season, (2) enjoy miraculous health and perfect attendance until the last game, and (3) then suddenly fall prey to a wide array of illnesses and miss about 15 more days, spread strategically over the remainder of the year.

Back then I found it brilliant; today I find it pathetic.  That’s why I’m sharing this story.

What Can be Done?

Surely, scores of students out there feel exactly like I did – bored to tears while imprisoned eight or more hours per school day.  In fact, with the highly animated, media-driven world today’s kids experience outside of the school context, in sharp contrast to what I knew,  hopeless boredom is probably both far more prevalent and far more acute.

The challenge resides in how teachers can reach such students and help channel their energies into meaningful learning. I dearly want to believe that educators these days understand much more than my teachers did about movement, relevance, discovery, variety, stimulation, and active engagement being vital instructional elements, not optional ones.  The wonderful by-product of teachers bringing these principles to bear with the classroom spaz’s like me is that the more regularly-fueled kids appreciate the engagement and learn better, too.


Another Personal Anecdote If You’re Up To It

If you’re willing to keep reading, then I’ll leave you with one further anecdote that I really should NOT admit to as a university administrator. But,  it does fit this current post as well as my first one.

One late afternoon in college, while sitting in the back of a required course for my English major, the boredom became unbearable.  Reverting to highly inadvisable past bad behavior, I escaped out a window once again!!!  This exodus, however, wasn’t a solo effort; I bailed with a fellow fraternity brother, another misguided Greek.

The exit required little courage.  We enjoyed a near perfect chance for success, because the professor suffered from horrendous eyesight.   I admit that this way of operating ranks as pretty low.  (If you know of the eye affliction called ‘strabismus’ or are not too lazy to look it up,  you’ll understand even better just how very low we stooped–even for me).

However,  in fairness to us frat boys, the instructor insisted on speaking directly into the chalkboard, droning on endlessly about one ridiculously obscure literary convention or another.OpenWindow_ChiotsRun_flickr

Plus, and this is noteworthythe window was not only open, but had no screen.

We interpreted these extraordinary conditions to represent signs from God that our liberation should be sought.

Every bit as important to our motivation, this particular spring day qualified as absolutely gorgeous.  The weather mattered because we had just endured another long and awful winter in the frozen tundra of northwest Pennsylvania.  Anyway, we hit ground level, then went off to shoot some hoops and otherwise frolic.

Apparently, I am a pathetic and hopeless creature of habit.

(NOTE to Marquette Education majors: do NOT pull a stupid and rude stunt like this one — even though I would be a colossal hypocrite in reprimanding you for it).

By the way, don’t rush to judgment on how this episode predicted the future success of my partner in crime.  I read in our most recent alumni magazine that he just made a huge donation to our old college, probably in excess of a million dollars.

You know, I might just give him a call about endowing a deanship for a fellow escape artist whose future prospects also looked like they might go out the window.

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