where I’m coming from…

I know that some people find my “slight” obsession and/or concern over getting good grades to be rather funny, because if you’ve been paying attention for the last few years… that’s mostly what I get. C’s aren’t allowed. B’s are barely tolerated. And I start breathing easier once I have so many A’s in the gradebook that nothing can knock them out.

You’ll tell me, “Rach, your grades are always good, why worry?”. To be honest, over the last year, it’s turned into more of a faint worry than a serious obsession. The Lord’s been working with me on things such as being a worrywart. Yes, I believe I should be working hard enough to get good grades, but if my Bible tells me that I’m to “be anxious for nothing,” (Philippians 4:6) then I think I better listen.

But I can still become concerned that I flubbed something on an exam, and maybe I’ll get a B this time. What’s the big deal?

It goes further back than these last few years in college. If you’ve been reading along here for a while, you’ve probably realized that I’m a “returning student.” It took me at least 15 years to decide that I should go back to college and actually get my degree. It took a year of working on campus and seeing my older brother finally get HIS degree to make me even consider it. Why?

Because I hated college, when I was eighteen. And I hated school. I never ever wanted to go near them again, and the only things I planned on learning ever again came from my Bible, my books, and the people in my life.

Maybe you think I’m joking. Let me backtrack.

I know that there are actually good memories from high school, buried somewhere in my memory, but they became completely swamped by the bad memories. I’ve blanked out on a lot of it, because I wanted so badly to forget.

I wasn’t a bad student when I was younger, but by the time I was in high school, I was getting behind in math and science. I dropped AP French because I was behind, and before the official drop date. I probably didn’t study hard enough, but I wasn’t comprehending all that my teachers were trying to teach me. I just didn’t get it. Even as a student that LOVED history and reading, I wasn’t even doing as well as could be in my AP English and History classes. That’s because I had yet to figure out what exactly my teachers wanted from me in an essay. Also, I had a crazy AP English teacher who saw sexual innuendo in EVERYTHING literary and I didn’t know how to deal with that kind of thinking.

Anyway, while I survived those classes and passed my AP exams, I couldn’t get my grades up in Algebra. Nothing I did seemed to help, and I was convinced I had done everything. My only happy time at school was with my friends in my Strings class, but even there, I never really liked practicing, so I kind of skated on by. My teacher wasn’t really a teacher, he was a local orchestra member that was teaching school for extra money. So, he was neither a help nor a hindrance. He let us play and enjoy music and didn’t push us very hard.

But despite my dropping math grades and my average grades everywhere else, I wasn’t raised to think that bad grades were acceptable. I knew they weren’t. I didn’t want to be below average. But I became convinced that I was. By the time I was a senior, I didn’t have a very good opinion of my own intelligence, report cards made me cringe, and math homework left me practically in tears. I just couldn’t understand it, and I became convinced it was because I was… well, stupid. Average. Unable to learn all that higher math stuff. Or figure out what I was screwing up elsewhere.

The hammer dropped when I became a senior. My only happy times had always been in Strings class. Well, that year, we had enough students to form two classes and my teacher split us up by skill level. I was the only Senior who was put into the lower level (younger) class. It broke something inside of me. I was so angry, because my teacher didn’t care that I was humiliated. That I would have no more classes with my closest friends. That he had stolen my remaining happiness in my last year in school. High school was pain and anger and humiliation and frustration and feeling nothing but stupid.

No, don’t worry, I was never one of those kids that “went to the bad” or did really crazy stuff because of inner turmoil. You see, despite everything going on in my head, I still had a Savior Jesus Christ who was looking out for me. Even when I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to Him or asking for help. He still had me in His grip and when I was thinking straight, I knew He was there for me. Always. And I had a family who loved me and loved Jesus, no matter what I did in school.

Ok, I didn’t really mean to boohoo overmuch about high school. Someday, I think some more of the happy memories will surface again, but even eighteen years later… most of them are buried.

After that, I spent part of a semester in college, and then I’d had enough. They tried to teach me psychology and evolution and statistics. I was terrified of college students, because I’ve always been pretty shy with strangers. This was strangers times a million, to my eyes, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near the place. I stopped going to class, and maybe I actually showed up for Final exams, but without ever studying much for them. My grades were abysmal, because I no longer cared and I wasn’t ever going back. EVER.

I joined the workforce. Worked in a bookstore, ran a business, cleaned houses, cleaned full-time for a Bible camp, went overseas as a nanny, and finally went home again. And then the Lord threw me a curve ball.

The Lord wanted me in college, and I have no idea how long He’d been trying to prepare me for it, but He finally got through to me. But I entered college with baggage. I had been convinced, as an eighteen year old, that I was fairly dumb and unable to learn stuff. I’d been crushed by what I perceived as the unfeeling nature of my music teacher, and no, I’ve never touched my violin again. I had been embarrassed again and again by mistakes and bad grades and such, in high school and college. My understanding of math had never grown much after 8th grade (forms in geometry gave me nightmares in middle school, but I LOVED tessellations), though a few things got into my head somehow.

But when I became determined to return to college, I was also determined that I wasn’t going to waste my time or money, since I would be paying back loans for it. I decided, with a vengeance, that I was going to study hard and clobber my classes. But to be honest, I thought I’d be fighting for B’s.

So, I was flat out astonished when I started to get A’s. And more A’s. And I hit the Dean’s List and the President’s List. My one B in a class still grates on me, but maybe it keeps me humble, also. I discovered that with enough study time and force of will, I could even get an A in “baby” Chemistry and my one required Math class. I even ended up tutoring a friend of mine through HER math class, discovering that I had learned that stuff better than I thought. And that I was CAPABLE of it.

What is all this to say? I carried baggage in my head for years, believing that I was incapable of learning, that math and science stuff especially. It HURT to think that about your own self, but I was convinced. Only several years in college have finally showed me that I just wasn’t ready and yes, I probably wasn’t trying hard enough. My teenage self didn’t know how to deal with all the stuff being thrown at me in school and stopped trying.

I’ve figured most of that school stuff out now. Discovered that if I can do nothing else, I can write. And I can math and science, too, especially when it’s something that interests me. I can even get a higher GPA than any of my brothers that have Master’s degrees!

And I’m thankful that the Lord has given me the opportunity to do all of this. To learn that He made me to be an intelligent, creative woman, capable of learning, even where math and science are concerned.

But when you hear me expressing concern about a grade, a slight worry that I need to prepare myself for the possibility of a B… you’re hearing the shades of high-school-and-college past. You’re hearing my never-ending frustration over that one B (class grade) that I got three years ago (which was probably an 89, but he wouldn’t bump it up). And also, the only class I ever received a B in was in Modern Military History… so you can see why my military history classes are still capable of winding me up. 🙂 It was also my first year back in school, when I hadn’t learned to take notes properly or study properly. My prof also didn’t use PowerPoint slides, but occasionally wrote on the board. You had to take notes from his rambling monologue. 😉

This is not meant to be a whiny tale. It’s to show that I’ve gained some perspective on high school, years which were fraught with emotions and other stuff that everyone deals with. And also, my memories of high school help me to be a lot more understanding when other people, younger than I am, are upset and convinced that they just can’t do it. Convinced they aren’t smart enough and will never understand something.

And please don’t think that my family and friends were not encouraging me then, either. They were. They’re the reason I survived. But I didn’t always explain what was going on in my head, so they couldn’t always counteract what I thought. They could just keep loving me and praying for me.

So, if you have someone in your life that’s discouraged by school, whether high school or college, keep building them up, praying for them, and encouraging them that yes they CAN learn and they ARE smart. Just keep building them up. Eventually, they’ll listen and HEAR you.

And bear with me until I graduate next May. 🙂  As I said, the Lord’s been working with me when it comes to grades and worry, especially this year. And I’m so thankful that He has. But at least you’ll know, now, where I’m coming from when I begin to worry that I screwed something up. You may think I’m crazy to believe I could possibly screw anything up. But I can. I have. I probably will again. But hopefully, it’ll be after I graduate and never have to worry about getting any more school grades again. Ever.

no degree of literacy…

I have never regretted not going to college (one semester doesn’t count). Though, I admit at times that having a degree to wave under an employer’s nose would be nice. You know, to startle them. But I’m still in the same boat that I was in when I graduated high school. There is no course of study that attracts me enough to put the effort in to get that piece of paper. Or maybe I should say that there’s no major that would make me sit through another Biology or Psychology class? It’s all the same.172803

Some of my fellow high school students were required to go to college (their parents had plans for their rooms!), while others figured they would go, but they hadn’t decided what to study yet. But my parents raised me to believe that you can get good work and succeed in life without a degree, if you choose to do so. We live in a land of opportunity, where if you have the drive, you can achieve anything. The requirement is hard work, not just a piece of paper to hang on your wall. And discussions of our present economy aside, we still live in a country like I just described. You just might have to work a bit harder, nowadays.

But there’s a different type of regret that surfaces when you’re working on a college campus, in a part-time job, getting paid by the hour. You start regretting that you can’t wear a t-shirt that proclaims your many successes, and states that you’re not the idiot that some of them might think you are. Oh, come off it, have you never judged someone working in a fast-food joint, or working in a food court? There’s something about a hair net that makes you think that no degree came with it. I should know, I’ve worn them.

I am not trying to diss those that work fast-food jobs or get paid by the hour, far from it. I am trying to say that I have been guilty of being judgmental about people, because of where they work. Who hasn’t? I hope that I’ve learned from it, and never talk down or treat someone unkindly, no matter what job they work in.

So, if you know how you yourself sometimes think, what are the students thinking when they come through your cafe, and you’re wearing a dingy orange polo shirt (the frumpyness it exudes!)? I want to tell them that I’m not old enough to be their mother, even if the shirt makes me look like I am. I want to tell them that I worked as a nanny for a year in Australia, I’ve run my own business, and I could kick some of their butts at Ultimate Frisbee. And I want to tell them that I’ve read 101 books this year, 22 of them non-fiction.

Before you think I have constant self-esteem issues, I really don’t. It’s just something that I think about, now and then. Because despite some of their brilliancy in engineering and chemistry, if they’re anything like my siblings, I know a lot more about history than they do. I just don’t do well in a classroom atmosphere. Besides, I’m still getting over my fear of college students, which is another reason I didn’t like school.

I can’t tell them that my book total for the year would be even higher if I hadn’t gotten on a non-fiction binge that’s really slowing me down. Trying to read 4-5 history books at the same time will do that. Of course, I broke the non-fiction streak by reading Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, but I’m still booking my way through Larry Schweikart’s A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror, which has about 900 pages. But it’s SO interesting! Just now, I’m still reading about how we went from the Articles of Confederation, to writing a federal Constitution for the United States.

That’s when I’m not reading Forgotten Conservatives in American History (Brion McClanahan), The Venona Secrets: Exposing Soviet Espionage and America’s Traitors (Herbert Romerstein & Eric Breindel), Liberal Fascism (Jonah Goldberg), Of Thee I Zing (Laura Ingraham), and Choices of One (Timothy Zahn, Star Wars series).

Maybe I should print a t-shirt, with a picture of my library, before I had to put it in a storage unit. And all the books I read this year will be listed on the back. I suppose it would have to be written in tiny, tiny print.

But don’t worry, the longer I work on campus, the less I think this will bother me. My pride in hitting this year’s goal will fade, as I reach for a different goal, next year. And maybe some of my conversations with students will reveal that I know more than how to ring up a pizza on the cash register. One can always hope. : )

This was originally intended to be a post about my year of reading, but I rambled off in another direction. I will save that for a future post. Bear with me, I still have time to finish several more books!