High School: The Best Days of Our Lives?


Figure in jeans and grey shoes holding a backpack in front of a brick wall, with the text 'High school: the best days of our lives?'

High school days are the best days of your lives…

How often did you hear that nonsense line uttered when you were a teenager, eh?

Someone put a picture up on Facebook the other day of a staff photo from my former high school. According to the silver lettering embossed on the frame, it’s from 1999. I would have been sixteen at the time, and these were the teachers I saw every single day, week in, and week out.

I am shocked by how few of them I remember.

There are two or three I am still in touch with – friends of my parents, or parents of my friends – who I could comfortably stand in the street and make conversation with. There are probably another dozen or so who I either liked or disliked a lot, and their names are still easy enough to call up in my mind.

But then there’s the rest. A nameless mass of smiles and suits, made up of individuals who may or may not have once stood before me in a classroom and imparted their knowledge on noble gases, imperfect participles, and quadratic equations.

I was lucky enough to go to a good school. In general, we were a well-behaved bunch who tried hard and got reasonable results. I can look back with fondness and say that yes, that high school in a small Scottish market town did a decent job for six years, filling my head with ideas and ambitions before casting me out into the world to go my own way.

But I find it odd that many of the people who I saw – day in and day out for six years – have disappeared so quickly from my memory.

There is a colourful jumble of standout moments from high school that I can recall vividly. A boy in the canteen trying to put the strap of his schoolbag over his head, and somehow tipping a full pot of yoghurt over his head. The computer class where I went online for the first time ever, not knowing the difference between an email address and a website. The school play where I had to sit crooning in a rocking chair throughout, acting the part of a wizened old Glasgow Granny. The guidance teacher who was so uncomfortable with the prospect of sex education that he showed us a video on the life cycle of a glass Coca Cola bottle instead.

But beyond that, it is mainly it is a blur. Seeing that photo the other day prompted me to root through some old boxes and see what I still have from school. I wish I had kept more, to be honest – it would be a good reminder of how much I once knew. I have copies of all my report cards (conscientious, hard-working, needs to speak up more…), and one or two essays from the subjects I loved.

But I had forgotten completely that I have a Standard Grade in chemistry and a Higher in Economics. The maths exam I sat when I was 17 is full of questions that I couldn’t even begin to answer.

I mainly survived high school by developing a crush of fairly epic proportions on my English teacher, which I am grateful he had the good grace and experience to ignore. I had bad hair and braces, wore purple Doc Martens and a leather skirt – it is fair to say I was not a beauty – and went the entire six years of high school without a boyfriend. So I had to create my own interest somehow. He was short and smiling, and spoke with infectious passion about Shakespeare and Salinger; a glance of him in the corridor between history and double PE brightened many a dull day.

The other thing that helped counter the monotony of school days was having a handful of friends who I hope will remain friends for life. When someone has accompanied you to buy your first bra, or picked you up after you got falling-down-drunk for the first time, that creates a bond that is hard to break.

High school, more than any other time of life, is about learning to share. You share your crisps at break time; you share your Impulse spray and your glittery Miss Selfridge nail varnish before school discos; you have sleepovers where you share secrets and dreams and posters from magazines; you share your homework answers if a friend has forgotten theirs. You share the lowest of lows, like failing your driving test, and the highest of highs, like getting the exam results that let you move onto the next thing. Those are the memories that stick in your mind, long after the trigonometry mnemonics and irregular verbs have upped and gone.

High school forms us but, mercifully, it does not define us.

I would not go back there – to being sixteen years old – for all the money in the world.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

47 responses

  1. High school sucked for me, and I didn’t make it any easier by being an angry kid. When I look at my old yearbook it’s amazing what I see and don’t remember–and similarly, what memories do suddenly flood back! And like you, nothing would convince me to go back.

    • 😦 sorry to hear that. It’s easy to look back now & realise that in the grand scheme of things it’s just a tiny bit of your life and fairly meaningless, but I imagine that if you’re having an unhappy time as a teenager it must feel like it’s never going to end xx

  2. You forgot about the giggling fits in French, or sewing your pencil case to your tights in Home Ec! And our love for Cruel Intentions, Dawsons Creek and Eagle Eye Cherry. And White Musk Body Spray from the Body shop. Thanks for being the best high school buddy ever 🙂

  3. Even now going into Eve’s school it is the smell I remember, nice & nasty stuff all mixed together in one big nosegay. Books, sweat, dust, disinfectant, burnt coffee, farts, fear, sweets, crisps, wet sorts gear. Enough to make me feel queasy and nervous and not like an adult anymore! arrrgh
    p. s. you get my vote

    • It’s funny, I remember my mum always telling me I came home smelling of school. Never understood what she meant until T started going to nursery, but now I do!

  4. I wouldn’t want to go back to school for all the money in the world. Well, maybe if I would on the condition that I would know then everything that I know now 🙂

  5. I detested my senior school, and it’s a good ten years longer ago for me, but the teachers I remember clearest were the couple who’s passion for their subject made their classes enjoyable, and not surprisingly those are the subjects I did best in!

    • Yes, likewise! With different teachers I might have ended up going a different route entirely. Some people are so natural at teaching & for others it’s a real struggle. I always felt so bad for the teachers who couldn’t control a class.

  6. That was a joy to read but seriously – the life cycle of a coca cola bottle!!!??? That made me laugh, and I have to say your memories are bright and vivid – my memories of high school are quite sketchy now – I remember my history teacher with fondness and the stand alone cookers in the HE lessons and the cliques, all those cliques ….. you may have given me inspiration for a once upon a time story! X. Ps. I too am glad to have my school days far, far behind me – they weren’t all great! Lovely Post. .

    • I can’t wait to read your Once Upon a Time! The thing I find with posts like these is that once you remember one thing, it sets off a chain reaction and lots more memories come back. And, of course, some helpful friends will chip in with their own memories! Xx

  7. I think I may be odd as my school memories remain quite vivid, despite it being 20 years since I left. I am still close to my best friend from school and recent reunions have reinvigorated some other friendships, helped of course, by Facebook! But I hated it and dug my heels in and refused to be how they told me to be. I regret it now of course, but that was my personality. I too wouldn’t go back if I was paid; miserable time!

    • It’s lovely that you’re still close to a friend from then, even if that’s the only good outcome of your time at school! There’s no substitute for the comfort that comes from someone who has known you a long time 🙂 xx

  8. Secondary school ended badly for me, which has soured a lot of my memories, but your post has made me realise how much I have forgotten, when at the time every little detail of school life was so important. I suppose it’s a crucible of sorts, which both forges and brands.

    (My crush, in my girls’ school, was on a short, fat, balding Latin teacher – I think he was too short-sighted to notice my adoring gaze…)

    • Thank goodness life moves on and we can gain some perspective! I always feel terrible for teenagers having a rough time at school though – when you’re in the middle of it, it feels like it will never get better.

  9. I have much the same terrible recall and also about the students. I never had a boyfriend in high school either for which I am now very grateful for. Life as a teenager is complicated enough. Great post.

    • True enough! At the time you think having a boyfriend would fix everything, but I suspect you’re right that it would actually have just added another layer of complication!

  10. Great post! My high school had a class reunion a year ago. A Facebook group was organised and emails sent out. To say I was glad we were living in Canada at the time was an understatement – I scrolled through the photos posted up and saw the damage time had wreaked on a favourite English teacher and the exact same smiles on the faces of girls who thought they were above the rest of us. Wild horses wouldn’t drag me…

    • Hahaha! That’s wonderful. I’m not sure how I’d react if there was a reunion organised. Surely if people are important to you, you’ll have stayed in touch anyway? Especially now that Facebook has made that so much easier 🙂

  11. I’m glad for the opportunities provided at school and for the way it shaped me educationally. But I HATED the social aspects of it all! College and Uni were far better experiences in that sense.

    My son recently left school and hated it for the same reasons I did. I kept reassuring him that school is just a fraction of life, and that REAL life begins when you leave. He’s faring (and enjoying) college much better now than he ever did in school.

    Your story about the life cycle of a Coca Cola bottle is hilarous! For our sex-ed we were assigned a most softly spoken teacher whom many nicknamed “Pob” (if you can remember the old children’s TV programme of the same name, he looked exactly like him). Wonderfully he surprised us all by not being the least embarrassed at guiding us through the condom-banana lesson (yes we actually did that at school!).

  12. This is a great post – getting me and many others thinking about high school. I look back and see that it was the time when I let my inner nerd out and finally formed a small but close set of musical friends. Many of us are still close to this day. Thanks for taking me to this great place of memories!

  13. This post got me reminiscing, I hated high school! I hated the kids I went to school with, I was never bullied or anything but I was different to school peers and all my friends where outside school. However it also got me reminiscing about my teenage years in general and those I loved!!!

  14. Despite having been to three universities (I love studying I’m NOT a perpetual rop put) my school days and my school friends and still my closest friends and happiest I am 41! I loved school (except for the unrequited love thing> I had that too his name was Charlie and he was so clever. i was in love with his cleverness). I hated sewing and cooking thorugh HATED It!! I wanted to change the world!!!

  15. Great read!

    Maybe if I’d have actually turned up a bit more often, I might have a few more memories. Mine are mostly centred around the pool hall, the shopping centre or the back of the tennis courts!!

  16. I’ve lost all my old report cards – Now I realise you’ve got them! We could be twins!
    Trouble is, it was SUCH a long time ago. I think the emotions were intense – some incredible but not sustainable, some awful, but thank goodness they’re now forgotten

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  18. Glasgow Granny? Were you good at it? What a great memory…I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Life Cycle of a Coca Cola bottle, I’m missing that one.
    Thanks for sending over for the BritMums Carnival tomorrow x

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  21. What a great post and it provoked many memories of my school days. I have many fond memories of those days but I would agree that I never want to go back. Popping by from britmums carnival.

  22. Pingback: The Best Days of our Lives | The Blog That I Made

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