Monday, July 08, 2013

Get ready for the roller coaster

The following is one of a series of posts written in the form of letters to my son who will be beginning high school in the fall. To view posts from the start, click here. After reading that post, select "Newer Post" at the bottom left of that post.

Harris,

Since I'm an English teacher, you are going to have to indulge me with the extended metaphor: high school is a roller coaster.

You've been waiting in this line for a while, watching it from the outside. You've seen friends and relatives get on before you, and some have already gotten off. You've seen some jump off the ride looking invigorated and full of energy, and you've seen some stumble off looking exhausted and drained. I  hope that some of the things I will be sharing with you over the next several weeks will help you look like the former, not the latter.

Granted, I haven't taken this ride in over 25 years, but I'm one of those who runs the ride. Some of us make sure your seat belts are fastened, some control when each car begins the ride, and some walk around the ride every day to make sure it's safe. We know where the sharp turns and drops are. We know that it's worse if you close your eyes on the ride. We do everything we can to make sure your ride is the most exciting thing in your life (up to that point). We can't guarantee it, but we do our best to make it so. When we tell you to keep all arms and legs inside the ride at all times, we mean it. If you don't heed our advice, high school can be a painful experience.

Everyone knows that roller coasters are the most fun and exciting when you ride in the front. Make sure you ride "in the front" in high school. Be a leader, not a follower. Some days you will feel like going to school is the last thing you want to do, but try to embrace every day with some joy and anticipation. Encourage your friends to get in that front car with you. If you are going to take this ride, do it with nothing blocking your view.

Keep your eyes open for the entire ride. Make sure to experience every twist and turn, every high and low. Get involved in things outside the classroom - sports, drama (the good kind), music, art, community service, etc. Unlike real coasters, you only get one turn in high school, so make sure you get as much out of it as possible - you can't get back in line and do it again.

Choose who you sit with on the ride carefully. You don't want to be next to someone who screams for no reason, takes stupid chances (arms and legs inside the ride at all times, remember?), or clamps their eyes shut for most of the ride. Associate yourself with people who look forward to the excitement and look forward to every day. Let those who complain about how long the wait was or how boring the ride is hang out with somebody else. Would you want to ride the roller coaster with someone who "can't wait" for the ride to be over? Probably not. Don't go through high school with those who "can't wait" until it's over.
Space Mountain at night
Don't miss out on the unexpected thrills. Every roller coaster has some signature twists and drops that you can see from the outside. High school is the same way. Homecoming weekend, dances, trips, semi-formal, prom and graduation are clearly visible from the beginning of high school, but what about the things not visible or predictable? Inside Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, there is excitement you cannot see or anticipate. Every year, every month, every week and hopefully every day, there will be unexpected thrills in high school. It could be a laugh shared with a friend, getting a smile from someone special, a snow day or, god forbid, an interesting class. Sometimes these things aren't as obvious as the big events, but over the course of four years, they will provide the majority of the good memories you accumulate. My favorite coaster ride with you was when we road Big Thunder Mountain late one night and
Fireworks #1
Fireworks #1 (Photo credit: Camera Slayer)
the Magic Kingdom fireworks exploded overhead as we whipped around the track. It was an added bonus to an already exciting ride. Keep an eye out for the unexpected fireworks in high school.

I know that it's easy to tune out the people who work the ride, but for maximum enjoyment, keep what they have to say in mind. You've been going to school for many years now, and I know you think you've heard everything you need to from teachers already. Try to fight that arrogance and take what they are trying to give you. Teachers aren't in it for the money or the summer vacations (both myths), they are in it to make a difference in student's lives. I was mentioned in a facebook posting yesterday by a former student. She was starting her own blog, and she mentioned that I was the "first person to really encourage" her to write. That's why teachers do what we do. Take what we are trying to give you and use it to get the absolute most out of high school.

Finally, don't be afraid to throw your hands in the air and scream your head off (figuratively speaking, of course). Don't be afraid to take some risks in high school. I'm not talking about THOSE kind of risks, but the kind that make the ride worthwhile without endangering yourself. Sit with someone new at lunch. Push yourself in the classroom and on the playing field/court. Run for office. Work at a homeless shelter. Don't be afraid to be yourself. If you grip the rail in front of the car too tightly for the entire ride, all you'll end up with at the end is cramps in your arms and a whole list of missed opportunities.

Here's hoping you enjoy your ride!

Love,

Dad.

Next Post: "The Hidden Lessons of High School"
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