Sheltered Islander: Hi, School! The Best and Worst Times of My Life

High School Kids in Class
God bless our teachers... Photo: David Shankbone

I think it was Dorothy Parker who said, “Live as long as you like, the first 20 years are the longest half of your life.” It’s really true. My school day memories remain clear. The cruelest things ever said to us are said in school by other children. High school was simultaneously the best and worst time of my life.

I remember that what you wore on the first day of school could potentially set up your whole school year. Were you going to be a cool kid, a brainiac, a jock, a hood, or a rebel? You made your statement on that first day. This is especially important in a small school like Shelter Island, where there might be only 10 to 15 kids in a whole grade. There aren’t any new kids to hang out with, just different versions of the same kids over and over. There isn’t enough of any one type to form gangs or clubs, just enough for each genre to have a few representatives.

Once in a while, a few boys will start to look attractive. In a big school, it’s easy for a girl to work out a way to drop her books in a hallway that he’s just about to enter. In a small school it’s tougher, because the minute you look at a boy too long, somebody notices, and then the whole class knows it. Now he’s on the lookout for those well-planned accidental meetings. So a girl needs to be more creative to catch the guy. Innocently letting him come by to play the latest blood-and-death video game on your brother’s Xbox is a good ploy.

I don’t think teenage boys ever truly realize what teenage girls go through to get their man. First we have to read all the ads and makeup tips in Seventeen magazine. We have to decide on whether or not we need strawberry-scented mascara or glow-in-the-dark lipstick. There’s no way to get our hair perfect, ever! It’s always the wrong color, length, texture, thickness or any combination thereof. Proper skin care takes two hours of lotions and potions a day. Clothes—it’s ironic that teenagers all agree that no one should be judged based on looks, but let one teenager wear something outside the perimeters of school dress and he or she will hear about it for the rest of the school year.

I remember feeling sorry for kids who got picked on. Every class had a bully and every bully found a victim. I’m so glad that schools today are really cracking down on bullies. Some people say standing up to a bully is a good growth experience. But I say bullies are sociopaths getting their first taste of intimidation and manipulation. It’s a good thing to delay them from honing their skills.

The teachers, God bless them, witness the same pathos play year upon year, only the faces of the teens playing the roles change. There are two professions I always knew I shouldn’t try; one was waitressing, and the other was teaching. I knew the temptation to hit somebody would be too great and I’d end up getting sued. People are just so touchy these days about teachers beating smart-Alec kids upside the head with staplers or running them over in a parking lot. Nah, I just couldn’t be a teacher. Think about how one teen in your house drives you crazy. Now imagine being alone in a room full of them. I think we need to pay teachers more. Or buy them drugs.

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