A week ago last Thursday marked the last class of the last course I needed to take in order to complete my undergrad degree program. One presentation stood between me and ultimate liberation. I nonchalantly finished the project at about 11pm the night before and ad-libbed half of it (thanks, Second City improv!). And then it was all over. 18 years culminated in one three-hour class and now freedom (or as free as the nine to five world allows).
A few days ago, I was sitting around the table talking with my boyfriend and his mom, who has been an elementary school teacher for the past 20 years. She proceeded to recount a very disturbing story of distributing test results to her students and consequently having to talk a distraught elementary school aged child off the floor of the school bathroom.
Days later, I can't get past this. That girl was, at most, twelve years old. No twelve year old should be so upset about a test score that she's inconsolable on a bathroom floor. Quite frankly -- NO ONE should be that upset about a test.
But, this is the society we live in. Fast moving, high pressure, overly connected, and ridiculously competitive. The truth of the matter is, I wasn't always so calm and collected as I was on the night of my last class and final presentation. My family (especially my poor, therapist of a mother) will be the first to tell you, I was quite the anxiety-ridden student. For the 17 and a half years leading up to my last uncannily cavalier semester, I might not have been crying in the school bathroom... but there was a high possibility I would have been crying in my own bathroom.
Students shouldn't be spending 17 years of their youth grappling with stress and anxiety. And they shouldn't be waiting until their last semester of school to figure out how to cope. So this is what I came up with: 10 things I would tell my kindergarten self and other kids who are just starting on their educational journey. These are the lessons I (finally) learned about coping with school-induced anxiety. Because the truth of the matter is, stress is no longer just a scary adult emotion associated with paying bills. It's a very real and very present emotion for kids, too.
10. You Can't Turn Back Time, Cher.
I don't know why this is, but we have a tendency to think we can change the past.
There is absolutely no use beating yourself up about a bad grade or a fumbled speech or spilled milk. Do your best and keep moving forward. All the retrospective analysis I did post test-taking was wasted energy that only stressed me out and had no effect on my score. Seek constructive criticism, but don't dwell. You can't change the past but you can learn from it. As long as you tried you best, there is nothing to regret.
9. No One Dubbed You King or Queen of the Group Project
If you're a control freak, a loner, or anal-retentive, the words "group project" make you want to run out of the building like it's on fire. Here's a secret: you aren't and SHOULD NOT BE responsible for the entire project. Here's another secret: come presentation time, it's extremely obvious who actually studied the topic and who was handed a notecard with their two obligatory sentences to read five minutes before the presentation. I spent so much time doing the work for others and micromanaging any work I did allow them to do -- I was so wrong. This only enables group leeches. STOP enabling them.
8. Don't Play the Name Game
This is a lesson meant for high school seniors, and it was something that took me until sophomore year of college to believe. Take finances into consideration when selecting colleges. Don't accept burial by college loans as the norm. It doesn't have to be. I hesitate to generalize and say that the name of a college never matters -- it might help in certain professions. But figure out what those cases are -- you'll save yourself a lot of financial headache down the road. In the end, it's your own passion and drive that get you to where you want to be -- not the name of your college.
7. Make Room for Failure
There's a stigma associated with failure that suggests it's an ugly stain. Stop fearing failure. A "failure" (and I use this word lightly), can be the best thing to happen to you. I attended a rigorous and highly competitive musical theatre conservatory for two years. I failed my first board (final performance exam). Immediately after, I felt so ashamed; I just wanted to hide it and forget about it. There was no room for failure if I was going to be on Broadway. Three years later, I can honestly say that "failure" was one of the best things that ever happened to me because I faced the issues head on. I allowed the failure to change me for the better. Instead of scolding kids and shaming shortcomings, we need to make them understand that some of the best potential for growth lies in a seemingly "failed" situation.
6. Acknowledge Your "YES!" Moments
To quote Jay Z, we're a very "on to the next one" society. We're so concerned with the end product that we fail to acknowledge the little victories along the way. Good test score? Fine. Good. On to the next one. NO! There will always be "the next one." Stop RIGHT where you are and celebrate "this one." Find one "yes" moment per day, and pat yourself on the back. We need to stop brushing past the small moments in our race to the finish.
5. You Might Not be Good At Basketball
Look. Some people are going to be good at math, and some are going to be good at science, and some will stick to flute. I checked my boyfriend's essays, and he advised me on my accounting homework. A well-rounded education is good and necessary. The belief that you have to be perfect in every subject is an express train to Breakdown Central.
4. In Five Years, No One Will Ask You About That Test
Plain and simple. Keep perspective.
3. Allow Yourself to Be Uncomfortable
When I was in sixth grade, my teacher said something that has stayed with me to this day (hi, Mrs. Eifert!). "There can be no amount of learning without a certain level of discomfort." When I think about every time I have truly grown, I can recall an uncomfortable process (see: Freshman year board exam). In my experience, discomfort and struggle has led me to my greatest times of growth. Don't shy away from a challenge or believe that because the process is difficult, you're not cut out for it. Dive into discomfort.
2. Listen to Bill Withers
His message, I mean. You can listen to his music too, I guess. Lean on your friends. I had a small group of friends in high school who were in a lot of the same classes as I was. We were each other's support system. There are so many benefits of studying in groups -- students sometimes have a way of teaching each other in more simplistic language than teachers. Bouncing ideas off of each other reinforces understanding. Teaching someone a concept you understand better than they do also reinforces understanding. My study group helped to keep me calm and prepared.
1. Stay Curious
I think that in some cases, people associate learning with long lectures and insurmountable tests. Don't let organized schooling quash your curiosity. I've always been amazed by human potential. For a while, I stopped pursuing my own "personal education" because I was so fried from "mandatory education." Try to find something that interests you and find a way to learn more about it -- it's liberating and satisfying. School can be temporary, but education should be perpetual.