Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Hatter To Hater: Reflections From The Past Ten Years

Ten years ago today, I received my high school diploma.  At the time, I thought it was a big deal.  At the time, I guess it sort of was. 

I was never a fan of high school.  Honestly, I felt my school bullied me more than other kids did.  When we moved from Kentucky, my guidance counselor called me to her office and told me to get involved.  What she didn't tell me was I would be rejected from just about every activity, club, or extra-curricular I attempted to join.  Nobody wanted the new kid, so I spent the bulk of my first year alone in a new school. 

I had some great teachers.  I also had teachers who made me feel really bad about myself.  Ever overhear a teacher say something rather unflattering about you to the group of kids you were working with?  You don't forget something like that.

I remember watching other kids and thinking how ridiculous they were.  Fights erupted over the most inane issues - crushes, drug and alcohol supply, dances, getting rides, who sits shotgun, sweet sixteen parties, prom plans, being invited to the kegger, and weekend vacations to the shore.  These dramatic escapades evolved into inspiration for quality shows like Laguna Beach and Jersey Shore.  Thanks, Drama Queens.  Thanks for hijacking cable television.

I'm still not sure how I worked as a teacher.  For one, I hate public speaking.  I don't have joyful, giddy memories from my own schooling.  I hate waking up early.  I hate wearing a shirt and tie.  I hate working with other people.  I avoid faculty rooms like I avoid a colonic.  And yet, for three years, I loved my job. 

Considering the outcome of my career, it's no surprise I developed a hatred for public education.  It left an unpleasant flavor on my tongue and kept me in a bad mood until I discovered writing.  On days like today, it's healthy for me to spend time reflecting - to think about how I've grown and recognize what I can be proud of.  In honor of my ten year graduation anniversary, I decided to share some highlights of my reflection.  Thanks for joining me today.

Ten Accomplishments:
  1. Graduating from college, magna cum laude, in four years with my Bachelor's in Social Studies Education.
  2. A phenomenal student teaching experience: I taught Sociology, Contemporary Problems, and Global Perspectives.  The majority of my students were 18 year-old seniors.  I was 21 at the time.
  3. Earning my Master's Degree in Special Education with a 4.0 GPA.
  4. Won $1000 from a local radio station.
  5. Achieving additional teaching certifications in middle school language arts and mathematics.
  6. Enjoying three years as a seventh grade social studies teacher.
  7. Surviving one year as a middle school learning support case manager.
  8. Upholding a gym membership (and using it) for the past six years.
  9. Designing and maintaining a blog (and the coinciding relationships) I am proud of.
  10. Completing the first draft of my first YA novel.
Ten Things I'd Tell My Seventeen Year-Old Self:
  1. Do not make decisions based on relationships; make decisions you feel are right in your heart.
  2. Those AP exams mean nothing.  Don't sweat it.
  3. You don't need physics or trigonometry for any career path that interests you.  Stand up to your counselor and take creative writing instead.
  4. You like to read.  You don't think so because your teachers assign boring books.  But you do.  See that YA Contemporary shelf - go explore it!
  5. Buzz your hair.  It will save you a ton of money on haircuts and products.
  6. The woman speaking on the third floor goes by the name Laurie Halse Anderson.  She's about to become a famous YA author (and for now, she lives around the corner from you!)  Cut your stupid gym class and go listen to her presentation.  The book she's releasing (Speak) will become a controversial bestseller.
  7. Wear sunscreen.  Just because you're dark, Italian, and don't burn does not mean you don't need it.
  8. Don't idolize that substitute too much.  In eight years, she's getting arrested for having sex with a sophomore in a van.  Just sayin...
  9. Stop worrying so much about grades, GPA, and class rank.  No, you will not be satisfied where you end up because you are a perfectionist.  But guess what; it will not matter one bit.  You can relax.  In fact, during your third year of teaching, your principal will ban assigning and grading homework.  Can't be that important, can it?
  10. You have a handful of friends who will still be around to support your writing journey, and they are not necessarily the people you would expect.  You also have some really obnoxious friends who would never lift a finger to help you.  If you were bleeding to death in the street, they would step over you on their way to get free water ice.  Thankfully, they will not be in your life forever, so do yourself a favor and cut the cord.  
Ten Lessons I've Learned Along The Way:
  1. The world is not fair.
  2. Hard work does not always pay off.
  3. We don't control nearly as much as we like to think we do.
  4. Never let your job define you.
  5. Friendships do not have to be face to face.
  6. It's okay to make mistakes.
  7. Mistakes cannot always be fixed.
  8. Not everyone can get paid for doing what they love.
  9. The only opinion that matters is your own.
  10. Life has funny ways of coming to your defense.  Sometimes, it's immediate.  Other times, it takes years.  What we see in front of us is not always the original photograph; often, it's an altered replica adjusted to portray what a person wants us to see.  Yes, people wrong us.  No, it's never justified.  But sometimes, you learn more to a story than what you thought to be true.  It may not erase the hurt, but it may let us view a situation from a different perspective.  And sometimes, it's enough to bring closure; to let us move forward from an experience or memory that haunted us far too long.
It took time to find a version of this song I liked on Youtube.  This is the song the senior choir voted to perform at graduation.  Oddly enough, it's included in many of my writing playlists.  The lyrics sort of haunt me.


  1. I am very proud of your accomplishments.

    You've done fantastic things since your lonely days in High school, and I'm certain your journey will yield far greater accolades.

    You are an inspiration.

  2. A lot of accomplishments in your life. So much to be proud of. High school was not a great experience for me either. I don't think you could pay me to do it over again. But I'm at a stage now where it's kind of like, eh. Whatever. But I think all of those hardships in school really help me as a writer for teens now. You never know when a book you write will help a kid out who is going through some of the things you went through.

  3. You can't get higher than a 4.0! What a worthy achievement! I wish I had studied harder and paid more attention at high school - I similarly hated it and was so glad to eventually get out of it.

    Duncan In Kuantan

  4. Paul - I love this, it is so true. As I give advice to my students, I often think about the advice I might give to the 17 or 18 year old of myself. I also know that that younger version would have been too ignorant to listen. It is amazing how we grow and change. For me, moving away from Horsham was the best choice that I ever made, it allowed me to get out of my own way. I wish that we could catch up one of these days :-) I love reading your materials and being a follower from afar, you've done well, my friend.

  5. Your blog thing is an a-hole and wouldn't let me post. I clicked preview and it deleted the whole long post I wrote. I wrote this one and luckily I copied it first. I'll give the highlights:

    -I was thinking today that it has been about 10 years since graduation.
    -I miss high school, but mainly senior year and extra-curricular activities, which I unfortunately have no way to be involved in anymore.
    -The world isn't fair and I miss being naive about it's unfairness.
    Ex: I found out today that I'll be earning a whopping $4-5,000 more a year after I get my masters AND my license. I think you made more as a teacher. I was hoping for at least $7,000-10,000 more after all of my education and training. Depressing.
    -I laughed when you told yourself to "wear sunscreen" because it brought back memories of that bizarre song. I also laughed at your reference to that female substitute.
    -We still need to celebrate your #10 accomplishment. Sorry I'm not better at arranging social outings.

  6. Don't you wish you could go back and tell yourself all that?

  7. I went to six different high schools, and hated all of them. I haven't accomplished anywhere near as many awesome things as you have. Bravo, Paul.

  8. Paul, this is a really great post. I laughed when I saw the radio station accomplishment. I remember how happy you were when that happened. I thought this was excellent.

  9. Be proud of yourself and everything you have done. Your advice is very true and I have to say I was thinking of my high school years the whole time I was reading this. Fights with the popular kids and my friends because they dyed their hair green. Not fun. I guess what hurts us makes us stronger. Right? It doesn't seem like that sometimes, but in a way it's true.
    This is a wonderful post and its written very well. Be proud Paul.
    Congrats on your first draft.

  10. Your principal banned assigning and grading homework? What the heck's wrong with the world today?!

    More importantly, though, Paul, you are a good man and an awesome friend, and I'm very proud to know you.

  11. TD: You are too kind, my friend. I'm happy to have you here; looking forward to knowing you better and reading more of your work.

    Duncan: I'll admit, it took time before I applied myself in high school. I had a horrible 9th grade year, but moving provided a clean slate and I got myself in gear. Even so, I was 'selective' in what I focused on; you couldn't pay me to study for a math or science test.

    Lauren: So nice to see you here. You made a great point: "I also know that that younger version would have been too ignorant to listen." So true; I guess that is how we end up in those "teen situations."

    Colleen: I love that you called my blog an a-hole. Sorry you had difficulty commenting, but I appreciate the effort. I liked your point: "The world isn't fair and I miss being naive about it's unfairness." It was nice not knowing how certain things work, wasn't it?

    Alex: Most definitely! I'd be taking different classes - that's for sure!

    Bethany: Thanks for stopping in. Glad you liked it.

    Jeff: She was an interesting principal, and I use the term interesting as a code for a word I will not use on my blog. Thanks for the kind words, good sir.

  12. I wish I had the problems we had 10 years ago. Everything seemed like such a big deal. After the things I have been through these past ten years I laugh at the things we used to fight about . It was fun getting together n reliving those stories we didn't have the best times but we did make the best of everything

  13. This made me smile, you are wonderful dear :-)

    Ah, if only our 17 year old selves would have listened...

  14. Ah, if only we COULD give our 17 year old selves advice. Then again our 17 year old self probably wouldn't listen anyway ;)

  15. Alissa: I'll second that. The problems of ten years ago are cake compared to many of the things we've experienced since.

    Alexis: Thanks, friend. So glad you smiled.

    Lynda: 17 or 27 - I'm still not sure I listen to myself enough! :)

  16. Congrats on all the great accomplishments in such a short time. And,just as important if not moreso, being able to reflect on them and convey them to the world in a meaningful way!!

  17. #10 in your lessons. Love Love Love how you've written this. I couldn't have read it at a more appropriate time. I know others might need this too so I'm going to share on Facebook...with appropriate linking to your post of course! :)

  18. Paul: Thanks so much. I've always been big on reflection and think it's such an important part of evolving into the person we become with time and experience. I appreciate your encouragement.

    Courtney: I'm glad it spoke to you. Thank you for sharing the post and for linking others in my direction. Always appreciated. :)

  19. Awesome lists, Paul. You're only 28? You are way ahead of the game, wise beyond your years. I can't wait to read your novel, and see how all of your teen and teaching experiences come into play!

  20. Paul I love your writings! I don't know many people that actually liked High School a whole heck of a lot. The friends I have made and kept along the way is the only good thing I have gotten from HH.
    The past ten years have gone by way too fast. Academically I have not accopmlished anything but my experiences and family life I am very proud of.
    At 18 if you told me in 10 years I would of served in the Navy and traveled to Bahrain and Oman I would of said "Where?" My greatest accomplishment has been my family. I have a wonderful husband and daughter and either daughter or son on the way.
    Congrats on you past 10 years and I look forward to reading a post about the next 10 and all of the ones in between.

  21. lol, Paul, you make a good point ;)

  22. Michele: Thanks for your kind words and support as always. And let us not try and age me any faster than necessary; I'm only 27! ;-) I was young for my year - impressive, huh?!

    Anonymous: You have accomplished quite a bit as far as I'm concerned. I'm glad you were able to keep in touch with some friends. I'm also glad technology has allowed us to stay in touch. If I remember correctly, you were one of the first people I met when I moved here. Thanks for stopping in and sharing your thoughts. And, as always, thanks for reading my writings. At seventeen, you probably WOULD have listened to yourself.

  23. Great post, Paul. You've done quite a lot in the last 10 years! Well done. I wish everyone had those lists on their blogs/websites; they really provide a glimpse at the person behind the writing. Thanks for sharing!


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