High School in Hindsight
Growing up, I never understood why some kids would be rewarded for doing the bare minimum, but now I get it.
“Growing up, I never understood why some kids would be rewarded for doing the bare minimum, but now I get it.” The beauty of hindsight is it allows us to gain an understanding of things we previously were ignorant of. The frustrations of the past are swept away and replaced with a deep wave of empathy for why situations turned out as they did. Hindsight is a cheat code that allows us to take the future knowledge and apply it to the past, while desirable for the present moment, it is a matter the manipulation of fate to decide how the present turns out.
In school, it was always frustrating to deal with deadlines and due dates. The endless barrage of homework, tests, study guides, and assigned readings was a daily struggle to balance and overcome. Many nights were spent struggling over math problems that seemed to be written in a different language, yet every morning when it came time to turn the papers in, I prevailed. More than once, the frustration brought angry tears to my eyes that had to be wiped away and ignored to focus on the task at hand. Overcoming the assignments and making sure they were complete was a major part of my life at that time, and turning in completed work was standard operating procedure. Very few times I received a high degree of praise from the teacher and very often there was a reprimand for the errors of that assignment. Yet for some of my classmates, they received mighty praise and congratulations for finishing or doing well on an assignment that I had completed with ease.
At the time, it appeared to be favoritism by the teacher. Of course, they would praise their favorite, that’s what being a favorite means. This bred jealousy from myself and others who couldn’t believe the praise some would receive for doing things we had done, and often done better! For some of us, we would struggle to complete assignments and stay up late to finish, to have our classmates “borrow” our work to compare answers the next morning. Obviously, they hadn’t done the work and just wanted to take the easy way out, but it felt bad to leave them to get in trouble, so the work was given with the thought that maybe they would do it on their own the next time. “The next time” turned into years of the same pattern. Hindsight provides the clarity that many of the people who received the same degree did not put in nearly the same amount of work. This is one way that hindsight is a reflection, but not the point of this article.
The clarity that hindsight has provided now, is why those teachers gave out praise to classmates for completing what I considered basic tasks. There was no way of knowing at the time or even upon walking the stage to have the tassels turned, but life has different paths for all of us. It is apparent now that years have passed since those school days, but the direction of life for my classmates and I has taken shape. While some of my classmates have gone on to do exciting things such as becoming teachers, travel to different countries, and lead fulfilling lives, others have taken a very different path. It was impossible to know at the time, but those who had commonly used other’s work to complete their assignments would be a driving indicator in adult qualities.
Those teachers saw how life was going to turn out and wanted to praise the completion of minor tasks to reinforce good behavior and hopefully reshape those classmate’s futures. The wisdom of adulthood made those teachers see that if they didn’t do something to change the lazy, dismissive, undisciplined behavior, that nothing would change when those students became adults and they would struggle in their professional lives. Unfortunately, those teachers didn’t always succeed. Seeing now, how adults still deal with the same problems those teachers hoped to correct is an eye-opening experience. When you see an adult man struggle to write complete sentences, finish assigned projects, and show up to work on time, it shapes perspective on the signs that led to that point. Those teachers saw those signs early on and tried to put that student on a corrective path that would enable success, and for a teacher, the most gratifying feeling must be seeing students get on a better path, even as many never change.
The resentment I once had for those who could get by without struggling through homework every night by avoiding the problems, is now washed away and replaced by a deep sense of gratitude and pity. Gratitude for everything that made me who I am, from my parents, experiences, and mentors who shaped me into me. Pity for those who never changed their ways while they were young and now have developed characteristics that impact their adult lives.
Hindsight does wonderful things for perspective. Knowing now how the future would turn out, I may have done things very different but the past is gone and all one can do now is live in the present. Without the clarity of hindsight, my perspective on school may remain the same as it was while I was in it, that it is nothing but a waste of time. Now, I see that it is an institution that can mold and foster discipline, growth, and self-reliance, character traits that are obviously developed in some and neglected in others.