This has prompted me to think a lot about my own education, from elementary school to high school. Admittedly, I do not remember much about my first six years of academics. The biggest memories I have of those times are social: my first crush for a girl named Betsy who even in second grade wore too much makeup; accidentally causing a friend to hit his head and the ambulance coming to the school to take to the hospital; and wearing my underwear outside my pants for the Tacky Dance at sixth grade camp. I do remember that my lowest grade was a C in take-home reading — to this day I still struggle to read in my free time — and that the cute girls only wanted to be my friend when they needed help with math.
The work only became moderately more difficult in seventh grade. It wasn’t until eighth grade that I met my first academic nemesis: Ms.Perreira, my pre-algebra teacher. Not only did her math mysteriously blend letters and numbers, she was unrelenting and unforgiving in her mission to make each student understand it. She was never mean about it, which probably is what made her so scary. I don’t remember what grade she gave me, but to this day I am grateful for her methods because I have never feared math so much since.
In high school, the work became progressively more challenging. The first two years weren’t too tough, as I recall, but when I got to “college-level” courses in my junior and senior years
I did a lot of studying. Classes in English, U.S. history, art history and European history were particularly tough, requiring a lot of essay writing and flash cards. I got good grades, but it wasn’t easy. I studied long hours by myself and with help from friends. There were many late nights poring over textbooks and even more hours analyzing and regurgitating that information.
Fortunately, it all paid off when I crossed paths with the right college and they gave me a scholarship that paid for my entire bachelor’s degree.
Through all of it, the consistent thread was one thing: me. I had a lot of teachers with a lot of different specialties. Some of them were men, some of them were women. All of them gave me different books to read and they gave me lots of different tests and assignments. Whether the teacher explained the material clearly or not, I still had to figure it out and do my best. That in itself was a valuable lesson I still carry with me.
Naturally, some of my classmates earned good grades and those who earned poor grades in the same classrooms as me. By professional standards, some of my teachers no doubt were very good while others were not. Some students had parents that pushed them to do well, while others did not. Whatever the case, the job of the teacher is to create an environment of learning that gives students a chance to learn and pass tests and satisfy graduation requirements. At the same time, students are given a structure in which to learn and satisfy those requirements through hard work. The structure includes not just teachers and homework and tests, it also includes self-discipline, supportive parents and the ability to adapt and overcome obstacles.
Sometimes the educational structure will be perfect, other times it will be flawed. Just like the workplaces I have inhabited since finishing school.
Schools are a microcosm of the world as a whole. There will always be times when there is lots of money to invest and times when the coffers are empty. There will always be a combination of achievers, underachievers and everyone in between. I have seen this from the sampling of young Nevadans who have come to work for me at the Tribune as college students. I have hired some of them as full-time employees and others I would never hire in a million years. At this moment in history within Nevada’s geographic borders, we are hitting a period of excessive underachieving. Sure, the people in charge of the system should constantly work to improve just like employees of any private business. What also needs to happen, however, is each student and parent needs to look at where they are failing and how they can work better within the educational environment. I do not believe that school in Nevada in 2011 is so different from how it was in California in 1994 that students and parents can’t figure it out and succeed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if any cute girls need help with their math.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.