Lessons I learned in school


So much talk about Common Core and the academic progress of students. It sounds like we are now thrust into teaching kids toward “the test,” whatever the test of the day is.

Thinking back to the highlights of my education, I wrote down the first thing that popped into my head for each grade. Oddly enough, the academic points didn’t score high for even one year.

Oh, I picked up the “stuff,” but most of my school years were learning about life experiences, I guess and how to deal with them. What I remember the most is the teachers and what I learned about life from many of them. It was the teachers who motivated me to learn the facts and also the foibles of life.

A gentle, smiling face from early on taught me to “be kind and encourage others.” Short, stout and mean and always dressed in black said implicitly “don’t do bad stuff – or don’t get caught.”

The phonetic monkeys (a,e,i,o,u and sometimes y) in second grade with “y” being the monkey’s tail taught me that “you can learn from nature, even if you’re not sure what the subject is.” A brick cardboard house with lots of windows showed that “you can make something out of almost nothing and it never hurts to follow your dreams.”

A lot of what I learned about the Solar System has since been rewritten. Moral: Things change, so … you have to stay flexible and adaptable.” The students were all different, and the teachers knew that and modified for each individual. “We are not all alike in every way.”

I spent most of the seventh grade being bullied by the principal’s son and spent a lot of that year hiding behind library shelves and trying out different hall exits. “Life will throw you curves, so get used to working around them.” I was ill for a lot of the eighth grade and had to spend extra effort to catch up. I then learned that even “unusual circumstances can’t always get you around the rules.”

Dancing in the gym during lunch time taught me that “you can have fun even in the middle of serious stuff.” I had many teachers who were passionate about what they did. I still remember the amoebas and parameciums and the Pythagorean theory, which have come in handy on crossword puzzles. “Sometimes you don’t know why you need to know things until years later.”

The English teacher in charge of the school newspaper and yearbook asked me to join those staffs, even though I hadn’t signed up. She knew I could write from English class and wanted me on the staff. She broke the rules for me. I never thought I was qualified. “Get some confidence … you can do it. Maybe…”

For some reason, it was “cool” in my high school to be both academically smart and popular, so everyone was pretty well rounded, and most interacted. “You can be well rounded, smart, popular and a leader just by being you.”

It wasn’t the books or the curriculum that taught us how to be, and it certainly wasn’t the tests. The dedicated and concerned teachers, who pulled us along even when we were having life troubles, relationship issues, psychological traumas or iffy home lives made all the difference.

Through those dramas of life experiences and with a little help from adults who cared, most of us became well rounded and successful, which is what is important in life. I guess most of us also picked up some knowledge along the way as well, but if not there’s always the encyclopedia (or was.)

“LMNOP” is still my favorite alphabet letter.

Ralph Ferguson
Peachtree City, Ga.