Recently, I was invited to a creative writing class at my kids' old high school. I accepted the invitation because it's always fun to see what young writers are up to and, well, like most writers, I'll do anything to avoid writing. A few hours before the class, I got the feelings that I often get before I go into a school — nausea and the fear that I'm about to get into trouble.
When I walk into a school, all the old feelings come back: some teacher is going to get mad at me, the principal is going to make me take a note home, and somebody is going to want me to eat something I don't want to eat.
I'm not alone in having lasting feelings from school days. Often people talk about dreams they still have about being unprepared for a big test. Others say that being picked on, or not chosen for a team, or having to shower with other kids are still traumatic memories for them.
So it's no wonder that adults sometimes act like they're still in school. They still don't want to "get in trouble" with authority figures, they still get nervous that they didn't do their "homework" perfectly, and they still worry that somebody is making fun of them. A pattern of behavior was established while we were in school, and we remember our old feelings better than our multiplication tables.
My worst memories are about teachers getting mad at me. I was often guilty of the serious crime of "talking out of turn." I was considered "disruptive," a "wise guy" who couldn't keep his mouth shut. They wouldn't use those words to describe me if I were a kid today. I'd be thought of as someone with "special challenges." They'd probably say I had something like AKD — Annoying Kid Disorder.
The way such kids are dealt with today is probably an improvement over the "good" old days. Schools are more nurturing, and while we might feel that this is excessive at times, maybe today's kids won't become adults who still feel a little uncomfortable around small desks and foreboding principals.
The answer for the rest of us is to face our feelings rather than avoid them. I'm doing this myself. I volunteer at an elementary school once a week (I told you I'll do anything to avoid working), and I honestly believe that I'm starting to conquer my school-a-phobia. Each week, I'm a little apprehensive when I walk into the office to sign in. And I admit that sometimes when the principal greets me with a smile, I assume he's making a mental note to call my mother to say I could dress a little nicer when I visit his school. But by the end of my time there, I feel strong. I stride into that office to sign out, no longer cowed by the smell of disinfectant or the sight of rarely touched, perfectly ordered library books.
It's time for all of us to rid ourselves of the silly, irrational feelings that we still harbor from our school days. We are adults. It shouldn't matter anymore if we got to eat lunch with the "cool kids." We have the power to make ourselves see that a school is just a building — not a place that can magically reduce us to quivering children. We should make our decisions based on what we think is best, not on some deep-rooted feeling of avoiding "getting in trouble." Nobody is going to give us a surprise quiz or extra homework if we're "bad." School is out for us!
I think we'll all find this new attitude liberating. I know I do. I'm wholeheartedly looking forward to my next volunteer day at school. In fact, I might get there a little early so I can spend even more time there. Also, that way, they won't mark me down as "tardy."
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.