I went to High School in the 1970’s, a time of great political strife and social turmoil in our country. America was coming off the hippy highs of the sixties and the age of Aquarius, and social norms were being destroyed and rewritten at an alarming rate. We’d put a man on the moon, finally brought our Viet Nam vets home to a less than stellar homecoming embrace, seen a President disgraced while in office, and been confronted full in the face with racism, sexism, ageism and Wall Street greed.
I attended a public high school where a New York City police office was stationed at the entrance to the school before this became the societal norm. My school was huge, with over 1500 students spread across grades 9-12. I entered in 1974 a scared, nervous, naïve, smart and shy 14 year old, and graduated in 1978 the same way.
As an only child, I’d been coddled and protected from what my mother called, “the cruelty of the world.” As a child of divorce, I was an anomaly in school. In my entire grade there were only 3 kids whose parents had divorced. Me and a set of twins who were habitually in the principal’s office. And since my mother had remarried, her last name was different from mine.
This made me a social oddity when the teenage world didn’t accept others who were different from them. Coupled with the fact that I was smart – really smart – and grossly overweight ( think killer Orca) from an emotional eating disorder, you can guess I wasn’t the most popular chick in the school.
I was the kid that the mean girls- who were simply called bullies in my time –picked on daily. I was the girl in class who wrecked the test curve by getting better grades than 99 % of the rest of the class. I was the girl teachers loved to call on because I always had the correct answer to a question, despite the fact I hated to be called on because it drew attention to me that I didn’t want.
I never had a boyfriend in high school, didn’t go to dances, never attended prom, and sat home nights with my mother and stepfather, watching All in the Family and The Carol Burnett Show. I was that socially awkward and isolated kid who could have turned to the dark side because no one would listen.
The difference between high school kids in the 1970’s and now isn’t that different. Bullies still bully; druggies still drug. The jocks rule the playground, smart kids lead the class and everyone else in the middle just tries to get by enough to graduate.
Two things that did make me different from my peers and which actually did keep me from going to the dark side, were my 4 wonderful English teachers and my love of writing. All helped me get through some tough years and even tougher social situations.
Teachers do not now, and have never in my mind, gotten the respect and appreciation they so richly deserve. Without that one teacher who told me I was made for great things, or the other who told me someday she would come to my book signing when I “made it big,” I would never have had the courage to show my work – my deepest, darkest secrets and thoughts – to others. I would have continued to hold my work hostage, never letting any prying eyes go through it for fear of ridicule and criticism.
I was lucky. I had four wonderful people guide me towards what made me most happy and fostered that love unconditionally.
If you’ve had a favorite teacher, now, at the beginning of this new and fresh year, maybe you should call them, Friend them, email or snail-mail them and remind them what they did for you.
It’s never too late to let someone know what they meant to you during what has to be the most difficult time in a person’s life: Adolescence!