“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.