I didn’t begin to take school seriously until the 7th grade. Until then, I studied enough to keep my parents off my back. I could have completed the extra-credit assignment to raise my B+ to an A-, but I’d rather be playing Wiffle Ball with my friends.
By 7th grade I began to compare my grades to those of my friends. It helped that the local newspaper listed the names of those student who made the honor roll each quarter. So I moved the bar a little higher and did just enough to get my name in the paper. Within a quarter or two, I realized that, with a little studying, I could pull a 3.5 or 3.6. But going to a 3.9 or 4.0 was exponentially more difficult, and would mean less time to practice the Rubik’s Cube.
Seeing my name in the paper each quarter gave me confidence that was smart, and that carried over to the 8th grade. I consistently scored high marks in English and came to expect a high grade. It’s probably not a coincidence that some of my most memorable teachers taught English and the fact that I enjoyed learning about grammar, gerunds and even Shakespeare.
Feeling confident in my abilities, I began to ask questions. I wanted to understand why I was expected to structure my report in a specific manner or why a comma wasn’t appropriate in my writing. “Well, that’s just how it is.” was often the reply.
That didn’t sit well.
But I continued raising my hand and asking why. One afternoon, my 8th grade English teacher had had enough. After one of my questions she shot back, “I don’t know! Because those are the rules!”
She leaned over my desk as she shouted that non-answer, inches away from my face.
And that’s when I changed. Instead of sulking back into my chair, I shifted forward and said, “Why do I have to follow rules even you don’t understand?”
My fellow students gasped in horror. I don’t recall what happened next, but when report cards came out a few weeks later, I had earned an A- for my work, but an “unsatisfactory” for citizenship.
When I told a friend about my big “U”, he laughed and shared that the only other student he knew with a similar citizenship mark had been caught hiding a bottle of Jack Daniels in his locker. Apparently I was in good company. If my parents were concerned with my lapse in judgment, they didn’t show it when I handed them my report card.
With my kids heading back to school this week, I thought back to this experience and wondered how I’d react now that I’m a parent. Like my parents, I want my children to respect each of their teachers. They deserve it. But I also don’t want them to simply be sponges in a seat. If a rule doesn’t make sense, I hope they ask for clarification. I’m OK if they push back a bit as long as it’s done with respect.
I still ask a lot of questions, but tend to keep most to myself.