What I learned from school that had nothing to do with my lessons.

I recently talked about how much I hated school as a child and teenager. I stand by that. In fact, I cyber school my kids because I didn’t think they needed to go through that shit.

Looking back though, I realized that I learned a ton of things that had nothing to do with the classes I was taking. Some of these lessons came from bad teachers giving bad examples. Some of the lessons were from exceptional men and women who the world is blessed to have as teachers. And some of the lessons came to me just from experiencing a tough situation and living through it.

Watch your volume, other people can hear you.

I had a teacher who I’m not going to name who was twenty-four when she was my teacher. (Shit, can you imagine that? She was seven years younger than I am now, and she was in charge of a bunch of teenagers!) It was her first year of teaching, and she was dealing with life! I mean, who isn’t dealing with life at that age? But she was going through a breakup, and she would talk quietly about this with the librarian.

Not so much quietly, actually. Loudly enough that the students in her class knew way too much about her personal life. I loved the teacher, but she needed to stay classy. Talking about your love life where your students can hear you, not classy. From this, I learned to watch my volume, because other people can hear me.

Life doesn’t slow down just because you’re having a baby.

I was pregnant during my junior year of high school. My math teacher that year was also pregnant. I was in her first class of the day. From her, I learned by example how a woman handles herself while pregnant. The woman missed few classes because she knew that she had a job to do. She did sit down through more and more classes as her pregnancy progressed, though. She always had a snack, usually ginger snaps. In this way, she taught me to take good care of myself. Without telling me a thing, she taught me a lot. She was a damn good math teacher too.

Speak up!

In fifth grade, I was quite shy and quiet. I was attending a country grade school and my teacher was an old school teacher. She had a beehive hairdo and a ruler that she wasn’t allowed to hit us with anymore. And when we talked in class, she taught us to speak up. “I like the way Nicole just read,” she might say. “They could hear her over at Freidmans across the street.” (Freidmans is a grocery store in Western PA.) Everyone in her class learned to project!

Stand up for yourself.

While many of my teachers were awesome about the whole pregnancy thing, I had one teacher who was especially nasty about it. He made several snide comments at me and constantly mocked my other friends in the class. One friend, who was rather goth and liked wearing chokers, was often barked at in class. It came to a crescendo one day when he accused me of not returning my book at the end of the year. I had returned my book, but he claimed that he’d issued me two. (Some backstory; many of my teachers had issued me two books, one to keep at home and one to keep in class so that I wouldn’t have to carry a book bag while pregnant. Let’s think about that for a moment. A student is expected to carry a book bag that is an unhealthy weight for a pregnant woman. Let that sink in.)

This accusation of theft, after his refusal to help me when the other teachers had, was the end of my patience. I informed my friend, the one with the collar, that I was going to go speak to the principal about the issue. She agreed to go with me.

He doesn’t work a the school anymore.

You really are a capable person and you can do things that you didn’t know you could do.

My Jr. ROTC instructor was always pushing me to do what I didn’t think I could do. Run more, run harder. Lead PT. Climb that wall, try out for volleyball. Whatever it was, he pushed me to try.

There’s nothing wrong with not getting what you were going for.

I applied to be the editorials editor of my school paper for two years. The first year I got it, the second year I didn’t. I couldn’t have been more okay with that, though. I learned to be okay with trying my best and not succeeding.

There’s a lot of camaraderies that comes from stressing out with other people.

The year I was the Editorial’s editor was a tough year. Being an editor is hard. We all had to work together to make the paper happen. Each editor had to lay their page out, approve stories, edit them, come up with titles and enforce deadlines. That’s right, it was my job to make sure my classmates were doing their damn work. Oh, and did I mention that we all had to sell add space?

The other editors and I were often found standing up on desks so that we could take full advantage of the whiteboard to map out pages. We were all pretty close, after spending hours upon hours making the damn paper happen.

Alternative animals are the shit.

One of the science teachers in my school had cockroaches as pets. They were awesome. They were Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and they were so cute when they hissed! I loved them.

History is as fascinating or as boring as you make it.

History is either a great class or a boring as hell class because there are two ways to look at history. One way is to memorize names and dates. The other way is to tell the stories, our shared heritage. Guess which one we learn more from?

Don’t let other people tell you what to do with your own damn life.

When I found out I was pregnant, my school decided that I had to take a parenting class. I didn’t need it, I didn’t want it, and it took time out of my schedule. I had to drop Japanese class to make room for it. Looking back, I realized that I should have said no. I let other people tell me what to do, and was barred from learning something that I wanted to know. I should never have done that.

Sometimes you have to throw the rules out the window.

That same teacher who couldn’t keep her personal life out of the classroom was my first journalism teacher. And she did something that I will never get to thank her for. She was my teacher in the school year of 2001 and 2002. That meant that she was my teacher on September 11th, 2001.

The teachers weren’t supposed to talk to us about it. We were locked down in the school, and we weren’t supposed to be told what was going on outside. When we walked into her class, she closed the door after us and locked the door.

“You need to know what’s going on,” she said and turned on the news. And we watched what was happening. We talked about it and understood together that this was the moment that would shape our generation. She treated us like young adults and gave us the emotional tools to deal with what we were seeing.

Listen when someone tells you that you can do what you want.

I don’t have many regrets in my life. But this is one of them.

A representative from Penn State came to my journalism class to talk to us about attending college. She made a point to talk to me. I told her that I didn’t think I would be able to go to college because I was pregnant.

She told me about grants.

She told me about child care that was available for students.

She told me everything I needed, and she told me that I could do it.

I wish that I had listened to her.

What did you learn from your time in high school? Is there a lesson you wish you’d have learned earlier? Tell us about it in the comment section below.


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