In the 1970s and ‘80s, such options weren’t available. I wish they had been.
My academic life was spent in public schools, first in Northwest Ohio, then in suburban Atlanta. As a student, I was as unexceptional as a No. 2 pencil.
In class, I tended to be either disruptive or completely zoned out. In third grade, I had such a hard time keeping my mouth shut that my teacher Mrs. Hendricks did it herself – with masking tape. The next year, I had such problems paying attention that my teacher thought I was having catatonic seizures.
Next thing I knew, a “brain doctor” – my dad’s words – was putting electrodes on my head and spitting questions at me like a sprinkler.
Turned out, I wasn’t epileptic, just “different.”
It could also be that Mrs. Springer’s class was mind-numbingly dull. And as historical textbooks go, “Where the Ohio Flows” was something less than a thrill ride.
I was repeatedly told to try harder. “If only Geoff would apply himself … ” was a common refrain on my grade cards.
In middle school, my family moved to Georgia, where I learned that trailers could be turned into classrooms. I hated it.
Still, I usually managed get passing grades until 10th grade, the year I mentally dropped out. I spent three consecutive summers in summer school.
I didn’t even graduate on time.
To this day, I have recurring nightmares that I’m a middle-aged man in high school, still arguing with his parents about grades, alcohol, friends, girlfriends, driving and drugs.
I started working full-time in retail after high school. After two years of that, I realized I didn’t want to do it forever. I enrolled in a community college, where it took me seven years of intermittent enrollment to earn an associate’s degree in marketing.
By then, I had begun freelance writing. I covered boxing for several magazines and slowly built a portfolio of clips. Shortly after my first son was born, I got a job at a small daily newspaper in rural North Carolina. It was a swift, learn-by-doing-on-deadline education.
Shortly after my second son was born, I made a big leap … to The Tampa Tribune.
I was 32. Some of my former colleagues at the now-defunct Tribune got there straight out of college.
My wife is a public school teacher and my sons have done pretty well in our neighborhood schools. Thing 1 has graduated high school and attended The University of South Florida for a while.
Thing 2 is a high school senior and got a 1,200 on his SAT, although his classroom grades are often C’s.
Either of them may have benefited from a charter or private school.
I know I would have.
Whenever I interview students, they always have a favorite teacher – and often more than one. In meetings, my colleagues occasionally talk of teachers who had a positive influence on their lives.
I remember Mr. Pines, who taught high school psychology and sociology. He gave me a lighter one day.
Professionally, I’m now in a good place, but it took me a long time to get here.
I do wish there had been educational options for an easily distracted, sometimes mischievous kid like me. The one-size-fits-all model didn’t fit me.
COMING TOMORROW: Dr. Lauren Barlis of SUFS’ Office of Student Learning talks about her department’s work with the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment.