I hated high school... but I don't mind visiting!

That photo on the right is me, Stephanie Kuehnert, as a senior... or maybe a junior, but either way, that photo pretty much sums up how I felt about going to school.

I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I hated high school. Usually the misfit types like me do. It was the high school environment that really bugged me though. I have always loved to learn and to read, but between not feeling like I fit in at school and feeling like I wasn't learning about anything that was interesting, important or relevant to my life and what I wanted to do, high school made me pretty miserable. As a result, I ditched a lot of classes sophomore year until I realized that I could graduate early if I actually went. If I hadn't fooled around as much as I did, I might of graduated a year early-- my friend who brought the whole concept of graduating early to my attention did--but I managed to have a senior semester instead of a senior year and as soon as I was done, I moved out of state. I didn't come back for prom or graduation, much to my mother's dismay--the graduation thing, not prom. I don't have my high school diploma because she refused to pick it up for me at the school since I refused to wear a white dress--yes, white dresses on graduation day for girls at my school, which as a feminist goth girl, I felt was wrong on *so* many levels-- and stand in the sun for four hours so she could clap when I walked across the stage. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be "normal" and go to prom and look back on those high school years fondly, but for the most part I'm glad that I got out alive and it gave me a lot of angst to draw from when I write books.

However, I absolutely love visiting high schools. It's one of my favorite parts of the YA author job (though since my books are on the edgy side, I don't get a ton of invitations). Once I even went back to my own high school... That felt a little awkward--though I did get to see the teachers' cafeteria!--but going to other high school is always fun. Yesterday, I did a workshop on writing your own ballad, as in the confessional personal essay (or piece of fiction) like my characters do in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. The high school where I was doing this had a whole festival of arts programming going on and I was seriously jealous. Maybe if my high school did stuff like that I would have liked it more!

The main reason I like visiting high school is reaching out to those kids who might feel like I did, like the girl in my workshop who timidly admitted that high school hadn't been a happy time for her, but talked about a song that gave her hope things would get better, or the girl who was my host yesterday, who I also met at the same event a couple of years ago and she's still as into writing as she was and now we got to talk about college choices for her. And I love that in my workshops, it always starts off silent, no one wants to open up, even about the songs that might inspire a story or a memory, but eventually there is a windfall of ideas and even the shy kids are speaking up and people are talking about things that you know from the looks on their classmates' faces that they don't usually talk about. Sometimes I fantasize about being that awesome Dead Poets Society type teacher and really impacting the way they think about books and life in general, but I know I'm just a small blip, hopefully a more interesting one than their regularly scheduled programming.

I did have a couple of cool teachers in high school. My absolute favorite was my senior year Philosophy teacher, who led great discussions, let us watch movies like Blade Runner and Wings of Desire and do presentations on things that mattered to us. I chose the philosophy behind animal rights and veganism. Then there was my Humanities teacher who let me write an essay comparing Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

What about you? Did you love high school? Hate it? Have a few cool teachers? If you could go back (or as a writer, do go back) and visit high school students what kind of presentation would you give?


  1. I didn't hate high school, but I didn't love it either. I couldn't wait for my FREEDOM. My mum wouldn't let me go to school dances and so on. I think she thought the second I set foot on a dancefloor I'd get pregnant.

  2. I loved school, especially high school, which was way less drama-filled than middle school (at least that's the way I remember it). But as much as I enjoyed school, I always had one foot out the door with an eye toward college. I couldn't wait to be on my own. I couldn't wait to go somewhere new. I knew that, for me, that would be the ultimate life-enhancing experience. I didn't really get the kids who thought high school was the be all end all, as if life itself started and ended there.

    I went to a small private school, graduated with 56 kids, so everyone kinda did their own thing (which is one of the reasons I've sent both my kids to a similar school, to avoid the "type casting" that goes with large high schools where you become a jock, an artist or whatever because they need to put a label on you). I actually went to the larger public school in my town for two months my freshman year, and I can honestly say if I had stayed I don't know that I would have loved high school so much. Thankfully, my brother was already at the other school and my parents thought it would be easier to have us in the same place. Best decision ever.

    I think that if kids had more choices about the types of schools they could attend, they'd gravitate toward the environment that's right for them and we'd have a lot happier students and people.

  3. Rhiannon, Though my parents weren't very restrictive, I hear you on the freedom thing! Hence I moved out at 17!

    Jenny, I agree with you. There is a smaller Math and Science academy here that you test into (I don't think Math and science is the only thing you have to be good at... at least I hope not!) and I talked to the kids there and they seemed soooo much happier. I probably could have been happier there. Then again, I guess the experiences I had shaped me so now I am old enough not to resent them and just hope I can make a difference.

  4. Ha, I hear you. I did ditch high school early (read my dropout story here: http://bit.ly/fZfou6)... only to return four years later as a high school English teacher.

    One thing I love about writing YA is that it's a way of honoring the hard work of being an adolescent--especially in tough life circumstances.

    I also L.O.V.E. doing author visits and anything else where I get to reconnect with students. It's super exciting to be able to put WHAT CAN'T WAIT (my novel) into their hands and say, "I wrote this for you. Really."


  5. ARGH.

    I had an awesome, long post and the internets ate it!

    In a nutshell-- hated high school for the same reasons you gave. But my rebellion was fairly subversive. Drum corps took up so much of my time, I really didn't engage in high school. It was just a place to pass the time and the fact that corps was so disciplined and frankly, HARD, gave me a sense of superiority that was maybe unfair, but allowed any other criticism to roll off my back because the people in high school-- they just didn't matter.

    Damn, my original post was really good. Freakin' internets.

  6. High school wasn't my favorite, either...Isn't it funny, though, how those of us who didn't like hs choose to write about it? (Desire to make it right, somehow? To finally get the teenage "us" heard? Hmm...)

  7. Didn't hate it... but I didn't love it, either. Tolerated is probably more accurate. Mostly, I think I rarely felt heard or seen. Not quite invisible to the adults in charge, but pretty close. A few really excellent teachers softened the experience- but even then I wished there were more of them. And some teachers were insanely horrific.Correction: some were just insane. And as Holly commented - what am I doing now? Writing about high school. About the teenage years. Teaching hs English, too - possibly out of some quixotic mission to make it better. Or maybe I'm just stuck there til I get it right...

  8. I really did hate it - I had to park my mom's 1977 tan Chevy Nova next to all of the BMers and Mercedes that my classmates got for their 16th birthdays. Since I couldn't compete on that level I cut most of my hair off, dyed the rest black and did half-days senior year so that I could go to work the rest of the day.

    College was so much better - I hung around with people who were into the same things that I was, so I try to tell all unhappy high schoolers that it really does get better. I go to my local high school often to volunteer and do some readings and workshops. Now that my son is going into high school next year, I'm trying not to push my anti-high school bias off on him and hope for the best.


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