There was a conversation at lunch recently about high school experiences. Surprisingly, one of our most dedicated and effective teachers, a woman who is professional in appearance, expectations, and teaching practices, said her high school meant little to her academically.
“I didn’t care, I didn’t try. My teachers weren’t interested in me as a person. I just did what I could to get by. It wasn’t until I went to college, where I could take classes in what I was interested in, that I became a good student.”
I was so surprised. She is so conscientious in all parts of her life now, I wouldn’t have thought this to be the case for her in her high school years.
Another colleague remarked, “I feel the same way. I was always quiet, and I don’t think my teachers even noticed me. Sometimes I would see them in the years after high school and they might remember my last name – but they always thought I was my sister.”
“I think size is important. High schools are just too big,” remarked yet another teacher. “It is so easy to get lost or just hide in the crowd.”
Most teachers at the table agreed, that is just the way high school is, more social than academic, not a lasting influence in our lives.
So I sat and pondered a moment before speaking up. “I would have to disagree. In my own experience, my high school years really made me who I am.”
All eyes turned my way. No comments, so I went on. “I was challenged and nurtured in my high school. My teachers knew me, even though I, too, was quiet and shy. My mother would love hearing me say this, since she made me go to this school, and I didn’t want to at first. She is smiling right now I am sure.”
“Where did you go to school?” one asked.
“I went to Harpeth Hall.”
“Ohhhh,” was the group reply.
Harpeth Hall is a private school for girls. It is known for its outstanding reputation in academics, and sports, and the arts. It was, and still is, small: I graduated with 74 in 1974. The classes were hard, the expectations were high, values were taught and reinforced, and each and every student was appreciated for the things they valued and the work they did. The expectation for the future was there as well – we were to become contributing members of society. And we did.
Our children attended a private school, too. There weren’t any good public options where we lived at the time. It was not always easy, both financially and physically, since we lived in another town. And they had to make new friends as well as adjust to vastly different expectations. But seeing the relationships that continue with their teachers, and the people they are becoming, lets me know it was also right for them. That school had a big part in making them who they are today, and in what they will continue to contribute to our world in the future. I am thankful for those experiences as well.
There is a lot of talk in our state right now about vouchers and charter schools. Of course everyone in public education sees these as threats. I am not sure either of these paths will solve the issues we see in schools today, but one thing I know for sure. Every student is entitled to a memorable high school experience that helps them grow. One like mine, and like my children’s. Our job is to make that happen for all.