How I Went From Being a “C” Student to an “A” Player

Photo by Michael Competielle

My High School education was at a mediocre school in a middle class town. The curriculum was your standard 1990’s mixture of mathematics, English classes, foreign languages and hands on electives.

Most of the teachers were boring, tenured puppets, pushing the importantance of GPA’s and focusing on passing shitty Scantron tests such as the High School Profiency Test or the California Standardized Test. Tests designed to be administered where each questions answer fits into a box with choices generally A,B,C,or D. Trickery was used to generally have two of the four listed answers to appear very close to being correct however with only one correct answer generally.

This form of testing paved the way for Software Testing Metrics and State Accountability Metrics. Shitty ways to analyze shitty educations with crappy fill in the box exams.

Ironically 3 out of 4 workers sitting in cubicles are expected to think outside the box. Kenneth Cole

Critical thinking and conceptualizing aren’t taught as it’s challenging to grade concepts and philosophies.

I didn’t struggle in school I honestly just didn’t give a shit.

Refusing to study, take notes, do homework and other forced educational tasks I hardly passed any classes with better than “C”.

I’ve never crammed for a test as I felt storing pointless facts in short term memory is like exceeding a sponges saturation point.

Overfill a sponge with fluid and it’ll drip out the excess. If you don’t commit the information into long term memory, your just a test taker and a drippy sponge. Plop,plop… Good luck with life, passing tests and failing at retention and comprehension.

I always loved the first day of school walking into class while being handed a syllabus by an overzealous educator. Grabbing a seat and listening to a teachers introductory formalities about weighting of homework, quizzes, tests and class participation would be discussed and I’d glance around the room looking for the Neo Maxi Zoom Dweebi that would ask about crap like extra credit reading assignments and book reports.

Mathematics I struggled with “showing my work” as the answers always just appeared in my vision mind.

It’s doubtful I ever finished a book report completely as I always refused to create index cards, outlines and rough drafts. My final grades always included demerits for lacking the supporting documents and other time wasters.

If I can get to the correect answer who gives a fuck how I got there?

Teachers that encouraged cramming would review answers to questions that could foreseeably be on a test never anticipated the futureGoogle. Why crap your brain with useless facts such as the 5th President. Does anyone really give a crap? Doubtful.

So why cramming? To take tests obviously.

Enter Mr.Hughes

Photo by Michael Competielle

Sophomore year English changed it all for me with the greatest teacher I ever had. With a reading list of The Glass Menagerie, Johnny Got His Gun, 1984, Twelve Angry Men…. I was certain it would be another crappy class and another crappy year.

Guess what… I was wrong, way wrong.

His grading style was unorthodox as tests and quizzes hardly weighed anything and class participation was the main grading parameter.

Were the dweebs pissed? You bet your ass they were… and me? I was in heaven, all I had to do was read a book and participate in open class discussion. I was in, all in.

Feverishly I read every book on the list plus others. Huxley, Salinger, Orwell, Kerouac. Every evening all I did was read, ensuring full comprehension so the following day I’d engage in the classroom discussion. Hell I’d even lead it.We would argue, fight and force ourselves to reread and reevaluate.

When it was time for grading, Mr. Hughes would walk around with his grade book listing his students names however absent of any grades.

He would stop by each of our desks and ask us what we felt our grades would be.

He was an early adopter of self assessment.

Always a “C” student I was content with a “C” and Mr. Hughes would always say “Mike you deserve an “A”.

To my parents and my shock I aced Sophomore English.

I remember one day in class Mr. Hughes sent me to his car to grab a bag of tennis balls. When I returned Mr.Hughes ask me my favorite song. At the time I was heavy into Metallica and so I chose the song “One” based on the book Johnny Got His Gun. I was instructed to write a few lines of lyrics on the black board.

I can’t remember anything

Can’t tell if this is true or dream

Deep down inside I feel to scream

This terrible silence stops me

Now that the war is through with me

I’m waking up, I cannot see

That there is not much left of me

Nothing is real but pain now

Hold my breath as I wish for death

Oh please God, wake me

Back in the womb it’s much too real

In pumps life that I must feel

But can’t look forward to reveal

Look to the time when I’ll live

Fed through the tube that sticks in me

Just like a wartime novelty

Tied to machines that make me be

Cut this life off from me

Hold my breath as I wish for death

Oh please God, wake me

Now the world is gone, I’m just one

Oh God help me

Hold my breath as I wish for death

Oh please God, help me

Darkness imprisoning me

All that I see

Absolute horror

I cannot live

I cannot die

Trapped in myself

Body my holding cell

Landmine has taken my sight

Taken my speech

Taken my hearing

Taken my arms

Taken my legs

Taken my soul

Left me with life in hell.

“One” Lyrics by Metallica

Mr. Hughes handed me three tennis balls and said ”juggle while you recite your poem”. Puzzled I remember saying it was a song, not a poem. And Mr.Hughes proved me wrong. With three tennis balls in hand he recited my “poem” while juggling.

He created a rhythm by accenting certain syllables while he was reciting. I as well as the rest of the class were in amazement. Thinking back almost 30 years later, the experience is still fresh and life changing.

Having found the way to a real interactive education based on comprehensive, free thinking, discussion, debate and re-evaluation I’ve found a path to how I interact with new life experiences. Free, opened minded and impressionable.

And how did my remaining years work out, I failed Junior English and subsequently called my teacher a talentless hack. There was only one Mr.Hughes.

So how am I an “A” player?

Daily I do self assessments to check in with myself and give myself a grade.

I don’t set an alarm clock. My bodies internal clock awakens me early and the first thing I do… read. Every day I read.

Read, Read, Read. Werner Herzog

My morning breakfast routine consists of oatmilk lattes, avocado toast and a banana. My ritual is mindless so I can read while making it.

Grab a shower, dress and walk the dogs, again while I read.

Getting through my busy day directing others, designing and building I’m personally motivated to keep moving myself and my project tasks forward.

Driven by my own rhythm and self motivation it’s my job to push others. I’m a self starter, a self motivator…. a self assessor. And thats how i manage.

Not everyday do I give myself an “A”. Some days I fail and occasionally miserably. However I will assess the situation and right my off course ship, set her sails and regain my course.

I’m certainly not the smartest person, nor the best writer nor the greatest communicator. But everyday I awaken with a fire, sparked in a windowless classroom by an educator that said “be who you want to be. Just be honest to yourself”.

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