Most Memorable Courses … and the Clunkers
By Jeff Salter
In recognition of the millions of ‘kids’ returning to school at various times this month, this week’s overall theme is about our own fond recollections of terrific classes we had … or the unforgettable nightmares of totally wasted hours studying useless detritus that we’d never need to know for the rest of our lives.
Yeah, high school days were times of extremes: you either hated things/people or loved them. Not too much existed in gray tones.
Classes I enjoyed … or found interesting … or knew I needed
Those are important distinctions. There were classes like English (which had focused extensively on grammar at lower levels but was almost exclusively literature in H.S.) which I found interesting and knew I needed … but it would be a stretch to say I ENJOYED them. I mean who could possibly enjoy writing ‘paragraphs’ or ‘themes’ or … < shudder > ‘research papers’? Who could enjoy reading dreary stories, poems, plays, or novels and having to ‘learn’ something about them?
Yet, even though perhaps 70-80% of those readings I endured were NOT ‘enjoyable’ … there was enough attraction in the remaining 20-30% that I was hooked on literature. Of course, the simple underlying truth is that I had known from an early age that WRITING was what I had to do for the rest of my life … so the study of writing made perfect sense to me. Even if much of it was dreary and agonizing to struggle through. I guess you could say I learned what I did NOT want to write. Ha.
Classes in the PLUS column
And, now, merely a (short) list of the other subjects that rate a POSITIVE assessment as I look back on high school years:
History (especially American), math (including algebra and geometry), typing (which I’ve used extensively for the 46 years since), and civics (which I found interesting … and actually useful).
Courses that ‘ate my lunch’
I can’t be certain if my earned grades fell in directly correlation to the classes I ‘disliked’ — but I’m pretty sure I struggled in all the classes on this NEGATIVE side of the ledger.
I don’t recall whether I hated the content, the presentation (i.e., teacher), the classroom, the time of day (after-lunch periods were usually yawners) — or if I had already decided those instructional hours were a total waste of my time and energy and I would never – positively NEVER – make use of, or reference to, anything remotely related to those subjects.
This group of stinkers includes:
Sciences (including chemistry and biology), three years of French (with three different teachers), Phys Ed (which was disagreeable because you had to get sweaty and then go back to class … and none of my classrooms (in the deep South) had air-conditioning), Driver’s Ed (which was a joke because I already had my license … but it got my parents a minor discount on insurance).
Other class notes:
‘Health’ — which, only years later, was actually called ‘sex education’ (though, truthfully, this included a lot more than ‘sex’). For example, we learned how to breast feed a baby. Had that film featured someone prettier than a 70-year-old granny, the boys may have expressed more interest.
Study Hall. I should do an entire blog on the hours I wasted in study hall. I could hardly ever study because students around me were always up to something … or I was. And having a teacher prowl around the classroom – ostensibly to keep ‘order’ – just tickled my funny bone somehow … so my major effort was trying not to laugh out loud … as the teacher(s) crept past my row of desks. What made this so funny in 10th grade was that our two study hall ‘teachers’ had been nicknamed … Batman and Robin.
What I remember most
I was very shy as a child – and, actually, still am – so it may be surprising to learn that I tackled voluntary activities related to ‘speech’ and ‘theater’. [Back in 7th and 8th grade, I’d had an energetic speech teacher who required us to perform all kinds of public speaking endeavors … and I was always as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But I survived. And each of those small victories made me slightly more confident].
So when I reached 11th grade and a teacher solicited volunteers to be in a one-act play, I reluctantly agreed … and had one of the leading roles! Completely un-memorable play and my performance was only adequate, but I was hooked.
In my senior year, I was in three productions: a one-act play we performed at a community venue for competition, the dual roles of beast and prince in “Beauty and the Beast”, and a leading role in the MUSICAL … “The Boyfriend”. Yeah … imagine shy ole Jeff SINGING in public! Plus, I was talked into taking an ‘oral interpretation’ to a regional speech convention. And I voluntarily (though unofficially) ‘audited’ a speech class for an entire semester.
All that is merely to explain why, when I think of my high school years — the images which seem to encapsulate the most exciting (and beneficial) experiences … were those centered on public speaking and theater.
Do I still get butterflies when I have to speak in front of others? Absolutely. And I’ve occasionally had to address as many as 400 people. Even taught a grad school course for one semester. But always butterflies.
What were YOUR favorite classes?
Which courses did you HATE?
Do YOU get butterflies when you have to speak ‘in public’?