Lyons: School’s more like life than you think

Either this week or next is back-to-school time for most McHenry County students and teachers, which still seems weird to me in mid-August.

As a kid, the advent of the school season was mostly accompanied by feelings of dread and the end of freedom as I understood it. While other kids were getting excited about new backpacks and Trapper Keepers, I considered jumping a freight train for some Western town devoid of even a one-room schoolhouse.

My son starts third grade today, and he’s appropriately excited about seeing his friends and teachers again. I wish I had that kind of attitude as a kid, but school was something I mostly associated with incarceration.

Unfortunately, that association didn’t change much as I got older, and I still reflect on why I didn’t enjoy school and occasionally have dreams about not knowing where my exam was being held on finals day.

It’s not that I was stupid. Give me a standardized test and I’d raise the school median – honors classes, gifted programs, etc. It’s not that I was anti-social. I’d have rather been around other kids than not.

Mostly, it was that I preferred to learn on my own and hated sitting at a desk listening to someone talk for an hour or more. More captive than captivated. Restless. Bored.

So as I watch my own kids, I often wonder how I could have adapted better and whether I could have gotten more out of school than I did.

I’m not sure what the answer is other than to remember that I didn’t hate everything about school. I loved literature and history and read plenty of books, many of which no one ever assigned. Some teachers were cool, and I had plenty of friends.

Upon reflection, and despite everyone who tells you school is nothing like the real world, the key to success in school is the key to success in life – focus on the things you love and do them passionately.

You could waste a lot of time moping about what you don’t like in school or in life. Pop algebra quizzes stink. Know what else stinks? 401(k) seminars. You do what you have to do and it won’t last forever. At some point, you get to do what you love.

As smart as I thought I was, it took me and kids like me a lot longer than others to figure these things out. So what I try to explain to my kids is that the better choices you make now, the more choices you’ll be able to make in the future.

You can choose to be miserable in school and do pretty well compounding your misery by blowing off assignments, getting detentions and focusing on what you hate. You can do the same thing in the grown-up world, and the results are similar.

Or you can find the things you love about school, work, life and pursue them with everything you have. You’re still going to have to do plenty of things you find tedious, but get them done and out of the way so you can focus on what’s important.

Good luck on another year in school. If you want it to be miserable, that option is available to you. But wouldn’t it be better to make the most of it?

• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.

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