Thursday, October 17, 2013

Top 5: High school confidential

After working mostly with primary and intermediate grades to begin this school year, I have finally been teaching in a high school again this past week. It has been fun to work with older students again, and it has been great to be in the culture of a high school. I also recently finished reading Jian Ghomeshi's music memoir 1982, which was all about his grade 8 and 9 years and watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is about a high school freshman, so I have been reflecting on my own high school experience a lot in the past week. It has been a fun exercise, if not a little awkward, to try to remember what I was like in those formative years and to reflect on my overall high school experience, which was primarily positive and certainly atypical.

It always occurs to me when I intake any media that portrays high school that I had a completely non-normal experience in high school. I never went to a party, I never drank or smoked anything, and I only had anything close to a girlfriend for a total of one week in Grade 10 (and even that was mostly just one night at a Halloween party, so I don't really count it). I didn't get my driver's license until halfway through Grade 12, and I only worked during summer and during the Christmas holidays, so my time was mostly devoted to my studies and the activities in which I was involved in and out of school, along with the few friends I had. I was a top academic student (90+% in almost every subject) and I was highly involved in the life of the school (editor of the school newspaper, male lead in the musical, leader of the Christian club on campus, trombone in band and jazz band, announcer at and host of the annual basketball tournament, visible in most public events) to the point that I was awarded both the public speaking award and the overall school spirit award at graduation, as well as being named "most likely to succeed" by my peers. In short, not a typical four years of high school.

I think this atypical adolescence in part actually makes me a better teacher. Some of my peers seem to be teaching high school because they never wanted to leave or never matured out of it (a cynical point of view to be sure, but not necessarily untrue; you all know the type of teacher to whom I'm referring). I like teaching high school because of the formative nature of these years and because I know that it does not have to be like the stereotypical high school experience is portrayed. I love being able to encourage teens to try new things and find themselves and to create a safe environment, both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities, in which students can do so. Sure, it's still destined to be awkward and weird along the way (I certainly was), but it can be fun. I know that I managed to make it through with no real regrets about who I was or what I did, and I love being able to help teens find that path.

Of course, when I say that I have no real regrets, I mean that I do not have any overtly negative memories or experiences that clouded my time in high school. I loved the things that I did and how I did them and the people with whom I studied and acted and edited and worked. I did everything I wanted to at the time - but yet there are still a few things that I wish I could have made the time to do, knowing who I am now and who I have been along the way. Of course, I have remedied some of these in my teaching career, so maybe I'm making up for lost time and those regrets in my career now. Here are my top five things I would have liked to have done during my high school years.

5. Worked a regular job. I worked seasonally, but I did not work during the times in which school was in session (save for a couple of weeks before Christmas). It's not so much the income that I missed out on, but the life (and work) experience that I could have gotten. Well, and I probably would not have so many student loans now. I had vowed never to work fast food (and I still haven't), but it would have been great to be in a work environment more consistently over those years.

4. Debate / Model United Nations: I group these two similar activities together, and I chalk up this absence to a bad experience with Debate in Grade 8; I was named "least likely to succeed in debate" at the "Johnnies", the year-end awards for debate, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy in my high school years, as I didn't even try. (As an aside: you should never allow kids to give those kinds of awards. I'm not sure if the teachers wrote that, or they just allowed it to happen, and I remember thinking it was kind of funny based on my experience that year, but that should NEVER EVER happen.) I did not have a good partner for the debates in which I participated (likely because I was mostly an insufferable jerk for most of my middle school years), so I never really got into either of them. But when I think about my skill set at that age, I could have been really good at debate; it was a missed opportunity, to be sure, along with Model United Nations. MUN was always one of those maligned groups that only the really nerdy kids were part of, and despite what you may think given my current nerdiness, I couldn't get past that fact to participate. Plus, I didn't really know what it was; if I had ever investigated, I know I would have enjoyed it significantly.

3. Bible Quizzing. While not a school activity, quizzing takes place during those years, so I've included it here. I did not know about Quizzing until I was in Grade 12, and my life was already too full by that point to join. But I would have destroyed at it. Quizzing involves memorizing books of the Bible, anticipating questions, practising weekly, competing against others, and becoming very skilled in a set of information; in short, my wheelhouse. I have no doubt that I would have been able to represent the district at Internationals, a feat that sounds impressive and kind of is considering that something like 12 quizzers were chosen out of over 500 to go each year. I coulda been a contendah, and I would likely have had a more established group of friends during those early high school years (I ended up meeting many quizzers in university, including the one to whom I'm married, so I didn't entirely miss out after all).

2. Student Council: That's right, I was never on Student Council, though it was not for lack of trying. I knew I would never win a popularity contest from my peers, so I never tried to be elected that way in Grade 9 and 10. In my last two years, the option was presented to be selected by a committee of teachers and current student council members to ensure that the entire enterprise was not decided by a popularity contest; an admirable idea, to be sure. I tried both years, but I was inexplicably omitted both times; I say inexplicably because I actually still do not know why I was not selected, except that I was not supposed to be there. I also ran for the Senior Watch, the elected male position to represent the school; I did not come anywhere close to winning, but I still got 100 votes out of 1000 students, and 10% is pretty good in my books. It is an interesting mental exercise to think about how my senior years may have been different had I been chosen, as it is likely that I would not have been able to do any of the other activities that I really enjoyed leading. So in the end, I am glad that I was not on Student Council, but I still kind of wish that I could have been, if you get what I mean. The funny part about the whole experience was that because I was so involved in almost every public event (pep rallies, etc.) and I was good friends with most of the seniors on Student Council, most of the school thought I was on Council anyway. Maybe I'm just not cut out to be a politician after all - I'm better as the strategist behind the scenes, or the commentator on the sidelines.

1. Played any team sport. My greatest regret is that I did not play any team sports in high school; the only sport in which I participated was Track. I ran in Grade 9 and 10, and then I realized that I could not compete with the club guys. I do remember winning a heat in the 200m once (though it was very slow) even though my legs went lactic on the home stretch and I collapsed over the finish line; that was my early queue for "retirement", so I stopped at that point. I did not even take Phys Ed in Grade 11 or 12 partially because it was not required and mostly because I had many more interesting subjects to take, like all of the sciences and maths, band, and French, along with the required English and Social Studies courses. I had quite a few options at my school (though several, including basketball and volleyball, were automatically ruled out due to my lack of height and athleticity), but I never played any; they weren't even on my radar after Grade 10. I thought hard about football the summer before Grade 10, but I decided against it (and what position would I have played anyway?) and saved my knees in the process. I could easily have joined one of the curling teams, but I didn't; both football and curling actually won provincial championships in the time I was at school. The closest I came was when I tried out for the soccer team in Grade 10; I went to every practice, and I even got my high school nickname ("Heppy") out of the experience, but I was the only cut out of the guys who had really tried out (ie. who had gone to more than one session). Now, I was resolutely terrible at soccer, so it made sense that I would be cut, and I was mostly trying out because I had friends on the team who encouraged me to do so, so I was not devastated. As it was, I was too busy with what I was doing outside of sports, so it was probably for the best that I didn't make it, but I do wish I had found a sport in high school. If our school had had an ultimate frisbee team, or a rugby team, I might have been interested, but it was not to be. There are a lot of good lessons to learn through sports, and I intend to ensure that my kids learn them through involvement in team sports someday. I suppose, though, that I will have to model that to them, so maybe I should start now; after all, it's never too late, right?

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