Anyroads High School Was A Time: Stay In School, K? Julia Gazdag

Before I say anything else, I have to say this: don’t ditch class. Just don’t do it. I say that as someone who did it a lot and just trust me, it’s a bad idea. Maybe, possibly, just one time, to try it out and never do it again, but even then, do it for yourself and have an adventure. Really, though, just skip it.

So here’s the story of why I ditched class. Or rather, why I did it on the regular. It was my second year at a public high school in Los Angeles, and contrary to TV-show lore, they are far from fancy educational institutions. They’re just a place to keep 9-12th graders (assuming you haven’t dropped out or gotten a GED) between 8am and 3pm. There were some administrative issues when I was in 10th grade and for most of the year no one was in charge. So when my teachers stopped teaching me, I figured I’d have life adventures and learn from them. Mostly because I was 15 and way smarter than everyone ever, but to be fair, I had a bio teacher who skipped work every other day (not even exaggerating, he’d come in telling us surfing stories and pass back tests we’d all failed because substitutes don’t teach), a history teacher who just failed all the Jewish kids (still no joke), and an English teacher who barely knew where he was or what he was doing and would simply give us the answers when a question on a test confused us.

And it was just so easy. My friend and I would leave campus via the back stairs and go get Chinese food for lunch, which for us included 4th period math. We would do a service learning presentation at the local middle school and just not come back. I would pretend to be sick and stay home from school one day, then ditch all day the next because no one called my parents to check on me until day three. My mom is aware of all of this, by the way, my sins have been confessed.

I would go hiking in the canyon across the street from school, listening to my walkman all day and writing in my journal. I would go down to the ocean and sit on the rocks watching the waves with a friend. Sometimes I would go to these bluffs overlooking the Pacific down the street from school, just because it was pretty and was a good place to think. It felt good to take these times for myself, and it felt liberating, but in hindsight it was such a temporary, destructive freedom that it scares me.

I had a 2.1 GPA at the end of that year. Granted, I worked hard to try and salvage those grades for several months, and the really bad ones were beyond my rescue not for lack of effort, but lack of teacher presence. Those few days of “adventure” could have landed me in a truckload of remedial classes with a GED and two years of community college in Santa Monica, instead of the liberal arts college I got to attend in New York after graduation.

I didn’t graduate from this same school, though. I transferred to a private school for my second year of tenth grade. That’s right. My secret’s out. I repeated tenth grade. My interview with the school went very well, and the woman conducting it immediately told me that they think I would be a wonderful fit and they see that I’m bright yadda yadda (I can’t deal with saying nice things about myself, just pretend I did), but if I want to get into college I need another year of school to balance out my GPA. It was worth it because I wanted so much to be in small classes with people who actually did the reading and wanted to discuss it, to be taught by teachers who weren’t overworked and actually cared, and to have a chance at being in AP classes even if I happened to be sick on sign-up day.

Adjusting was rough. Oddly enough, the fact that a single day’s absence warranted a call home (thus making it impossible to ditch) was easy. The toughest part was managing a real workload and wearing a stupid looking uniform each day. I really hated that uniform. Eventually I got a free period into my schedule when I realized that the benefit of repeating a grade was having already completed my phys ed requirements for life, and I actually spent it catching up on all my work. I got involved in drama, started an improv troupe with a few others, and even joined the basketball team (I know, right, me). And the funny thing is, it was so great to be taken seriously as a student and to have creative outlets that it didn’t even occur to me to bail, even for a smoothie across the street.

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  1. As a teacher, I sometimes find these posts a little disheartening and frustrating. Maybe I am just being overly sensitive, but I think there was probably more to the pedagogy of these teachers you’re describing here and in past posts. Yes, I agree that there are some bad teachers out there, but an overarching theme of this column seems to be bashing teachers and school. I appreciate your column, as I am constantly reminding some of my students that high school is not forever, and that they’ll be out of here in 2, 3, 4 years but I would love to hear some stories about really influential educators you’ve had in your life. There’s gotta be someone, right? :)

    • I’ve actually written an article further back about older women, several of whom were teachers, who have had a wonderful influence on my life. I think that we’ve talked a lot of about positive influences from teachers here on HG and that discussing those who failed to live up to their position is more of a commentary on the power and potential to influence that they have. I’ve had a fifth grade teacher write my middle school before the start of the year and tell them I should be in ESL (I was the only kid in my 5th grade class with near perfect English spelling and grammar), a math teacher who tried to grade me down out of pure dislike (had to have an administrator check my grades and re-adjust), and none of those were even part of the above mentioned. In large public schools it’s as easy to get lost in the shuffle as it is for a teacher to lose you, and while yes, there have been many positively influential teachers in my life, I chose to focus on the ones in this article because they also existed. Between their classroom environments that made me want to flee and the failing administration having made it so easy, I didn’t spend much time in class. Ultimately my point, though, is that it was a bad choice and like you said, high school is not forever. I always knew that, but five years was a very, very long time, especially when I was ready for college in 9th grade.

  2. I’m in university and I still feel like people don’t take their classes seriously. A LOT of people ditch, usually just before the exams. I think it’s terrible.

    Every single class is sooo important and crucial for your grades and future career. Plus, you pay a lot of money to study. Why risk all that? It just doesn’t make any sense.

  3. I ditched school quite a bit in high school and ended up dropping out. I ended up getting my GED when I was 19, and was quite lost for awhile. I know if I had stayed in school my path would have been easier in the long run.

  4. I’m just about to graduate from high-school in Australia and reading this has made me think about how lucky I am to be going to an arts-oriented school with dedicated teachers, just when I’ve been feeling so over it all. Thanks! I would never have considered dropping out, but there’s definitely times I’ve taken it for granted!

  5. I’m glad things worked out for you :) Being a senior in high school, I see a lot of people ditching. It’s really kind of sad.

  6. I agree~I wish I had stayed in school~

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