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?