Towards the end of summer, two different types of kids emerge; there’s the type that hits the stores for school supplies as soon as they go on sale, and there’s the type that refuses to adjust their sleep schedule until it’s too late. I wish I could say I was in the first group, but that would be a flat out lie. I would continue to stay up too late, sleep too long, and croon “Age Six Racer” along with Chris Carrabba. Well, I still do that. Up until almost the end of my education, school felt like something akin to torture.
I was never one to take school too terribly seriously, even when teachers started nagging about colleges and scholarships freshman year of high school. Maybe I just have a bad attitude, but the only sure fire way to get me to do something is to tell me to do the opposite. The more teachers shoved college and life plans at me the more I decided I really had no interest in figuring it all out. Not just then, anyway. However I wasn’t a bad student, by any stretch of the imagination. I cared deeply about my grades, and was involved in student organizations. I played varsity golf and the violin. I had a ton of friends in several different cliques, high school was more or less my kingdom. But the entire time it felt like a necessity, an obligation, and a stepping stone from one institution to the next.
I thought a turning point in my mentality would be AP Literature during my senior year. After all, I loved reading books and this was a class dedicated to it entirely. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that I hate reading when I’m told what to read and when to have it read by, (something I’m still struggling with). I would walk into that taupe cinderblock room everyday like a prisoner walking to the electric chair, wondering how I was going to bullshit my way through yet another class discussion. It didn’t take long for AP Lit to turn from something I thought I would genuinely enjoy into something fancy to put on my transcript to catch colleges’ eyes. That’s the thing about the education system; it continuously piles on the idea that the only way to succeed is by attending a good college until you eventually start to believe it. So I sucked it up, I did my homework, graduated with honors, got into my first choice university. I had this naïve notion that Michigan State University would be different, it would better. It wasn’t until my third year there that I actually started to believe it.
Fall of my junior year was my first semester as an English major, and there is no doubt in my mind that changing my major played a very important role in changing my outlook on education. Up until that point, I wholeheartedly believed that your grades in college were based solely on how well you played your professor’s game. That your success in a course was simply how close you got to meeting the professor’s expectations of you. I believed that there was no such thing as learning for the sake of learning.
Thankfully, that all changed when I walked into the first English class of my college career, Introduction to Literary Theory I with Dr. Megan Inbody. Even from the very first class where all we did was go over the syllabus and introduce ourselves, I knew it was going to be different. I had never laughed so much during a college class or hung so tightly onto every word from a professor’s mouth. Dr. Inbody just had an air about her that made you feel like you were talking to a friend, and that you were both learning as you went along. In other classes I never bothered to raise my hand and participate in discussions, preferring to lurk in the back corner, more often than not with one earbud in listening to indie folk music, but the relaxed nature of that class made me want to continuously raise my hand and share my thoughts. Even when I said something completely abstract and found myself wondering where the hell I came up with it, Dr. Inbody would take it all in stride and think through it with me. I never once felt incompetent when speaking in front of or to her, because she accepted everything with wide eyes and extreme enthusiasm. I found myself actually wanting to think about the assigned reading, which to me was a totally foreign concept. I noticed that I would think about themes from our readings just for the hell of it and suddenly it just clicked. This! This is what education was supposed to be like. It was supposed to inspire you and make you want to analyze and discover. It was supposed to make you carry a notebook around everywhere you went so when you had a thought you could jot it down. It took me forcing myself through fifteen years of schooling before I finally got it.
From there it only continued to get better. My experience with that class and with Dr. Inbody gave me the courage to tack a concentration in creative writing onto my English major. In my first creative writing course, Intro to Creative Writing, I was introduced to one of the coolest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, Lev Raphael. If there ever was a class in which I was truly, one hundred percent myself, it was that one. And at first it was terrifying. I will never forget the way my hands and voice shook as I read my first piece of writing out loud for peer review. But Lev always gave criticism in the most entertaining way, making it feel as if it really wasn’t criticism after all. As time wore on, my writing improved and so did I as a person. Lev didn’t just teach me how to paint a picture with words or manipulate a scene; he taught me how to embrace myself as I am, as a writer, and as a human being, and how to be fearless about it. Of course this is something he’ll most likely never know.
The thing about Dr. Inbody and Lev is that they taught me so much more than what was laid out on the syllabus. They taught me about life and the best way to go about living it. I didn’t just learn how to do a close reading of a poem or the correct way to move your characters throughout a scene, I learned how to think. You don’t realize that there is a right and wrong way to think until someone points out that you’ve been doing it the wrong way your entire life. Memorizing biology terms and mathematical formulas isn’t thinking at all. Reading one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and figuring out what it could possibly all mean, that’s thinking. Dreaming up a place in your mind and arranging words to make it come to life for your reader, that’s thinking. And how refreshing! I sincerely hope every person who feels the way I once felt about school has a turning point. Everyone deserves to have people who do the smallest things to change your life in the biggest ways. Without Dr. Inbody and Lev Raphael, I would never have the guts to pursue a career in book editing with hopes of writing children’s books one day. Education is so much more than standardized test scores and course requirements, and I am so thankful that I had these two professors make me understand that.