I recently discovered that my high school diploma has been nullified. It seems that my high school temporarily lost its accreditation the year that I graduated, so my diploma is no longer any good.
What all this means, I am appalled and bewildered to discover, is that I have to repeat my senior year. So I have gone back to take classes again as if I were a teenager, feeling lost and overwhelmed by the whole experience. At last count, it has been eighteen years since I had a math class, leaving me ill prepared to pick up on concepts that I've spent years forgetting.
I keep finding myself sitting at a desk with a test in front of me, generally math or history, that might as well be written in Neptunian. I don't know any of the answers; I've missed too many classes. I am panicky and know that I am going to fail miserably. Senior year the second time around is hopeless!
I've tried talking to the counselor about my situation, but he (or she? not sure which) is always either out or too busy to talk to me. I sit in his (her?) audience for endless periods of time, being ignored by the secretary, and when I try to talk to the principal, try to get a copy of my transcript to prove that I have already taken these classes, everyone I run into is clueless.
I don't understand why they can't just dig out my original grades and use them, you know the grades my 17-year-old self earned. Why do I have to repeat the classes? I want to explain how ridiculous the whole situation is. I want to tell them I've already graduated college, that I have gone on to earn two masters degrees. But no one will listen. It's like I'm lost in a labyrinth of bureaucracy.
It is a nightmare scenario. Literally. It is a nightmare.
The weird thing is that I've been having versions of this dream for years. It's like I can't get over high school, and every time it appears in my sleep, it's a monster dogging me and making me crazy.
I have a few theories about the repetitiveness of this dream. Of course the whole situation reveals more about me and my fears than about the status of education in the country. I doubt there are very many high schools who would recall a 36 year old and inflict hell upon her. They've got enough problems.
Maybe the source of the problem is my master's degree in English. When I was in grad school, I dropped one of the classes I needed to graduate and had to get special permission from the department chair in order to earn my degree. Maybe it's that feeling that I cheated, that I didn't quite complete what I set out to do.
Or maybe it has to do with my fear of failure. I was actually a really good student, but somehow my fear of failure has manifested in the form of tests that I am unprepared for and tasks that I only thought I succeeded at.
I think it probably has a lot to do with my identity, which I've all but lost since attaining adulthood. When I was young, I was the smart girl, the nerd, the overachiever. I was the girl did the whole cliche "above and beyond" thing. It wasn't enough to pass; I had to excel. But now I have a regular life with a so-so job, and I'm no longer a standout. In fact, without a report card to back me up, it's hard to communicate to people that I am, indeed, intelligent, and they should believe me despite the stupid mistakes I'm always making.
It's been eighteen years since I graduated high school, yet it seems like just a blip in comparison to the amount of time I was actually in public education. It seems like I was in school for decades, centuries, like most of my life was spent in the chalkboard jungle.
High school has made a greater imprint on me and my sense of self than anything since, no matter what I've accomplished. I will always be that little nerdy girl more comfortable doing geometry proofs than making small talk with my peers.
Yes, that's me. The nerdy girl sitting at her computer, who never quite lived up to the potential she was supposed to have, a little leper girl with one foot in her mouth during every social situation.
This summer I had the good fortune to be able to work with teenagers in the Upward Bound program. They were taking part in a six week stay at a local college campus, going to classes and experiencing what it’s like to be a real college student.
I was their computer teacher (in spite of the fact that my degree is actually in English, and I don’t really consider myself to be particularly tech savvy). For their first assignment, I asked the students to create a newsletter using inspirational quotes and stories from your website www.motivateus.com. If you remember, I had called to ask if you would mind if I did so, and you gave your permission. You also asked me to let you know how things went, so I am writing this letter to tell you a little about the class.
My themes for the course were inspiration, motivation, and activism, and I tried to create assignments that catered to those themes. For their Excel assignment, for example, I used facts and figures on world poverty from the World Bank and information about blood donation and disaster relief from the Red Cross. For another assignment, they were required to research information on a cause that interested them and write to their legislators about that topic. They wrote about obesity, teen drinking, medical marijuana, health care, and a variety of other things, and in the end, I did indeed send those letters to their legislators. In addition to these and other assignments, I read to them each day from the book Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris.
It is pretty obvious, as you can see, that I had an agenda. I didn’t just want to teach them how to use computer applications. I wanted to inspire them to make a change in the world and in themselves for the better. And I was pretty blatant about communicating this goal. The question is whether or not I had an impact on any of them.
Basically what I saw is that the students performed at a consistent level from the time they entered the class to the time they left. Those who worked hard did so from the time they entered to the time they left, and those that slacked and played on Facebook (yes, even in a program like Upward Bound, there are slackers) did so consistently throughout the six week period. So did I make an impact? Hmmm. Hard to say.
I will say that I made them think. And yes, I do use the word “made” consciously. I asked them questions about their beliefs, asked them how they were enacting those beliefs, asked them what “hard things” they faced, and asked them questions inspired by the Harris’ book.
Although it is difficult for a teacher to measure the impact she has on a student--especially when she sees those students for a very brief period during their young lives--I think it is important that we keep trying. At the very least, they know that there are people in this world who really do value passion, inspiration, and motivation, and I appreciate the fact that you have put your web site out there for everyone to see. Those of us who care should not remain silent. We need to communicate that message, whether through the internet or face to face.
So I would like to thank you sincerely for allowing us to use the material from your website for our classroom project. It started the class out on the right foot, and I hope that it helped inspire my students to, in a slight modification from the army’s motto, “be all they can be.”
Word and Book Lover.