I was not always a good student. Most of my high school career was spent figuring out how little work I could get away with. It did not take me long to catch on to the secret. If you get a C, they never call your parents. So that is what I aimed to do. My GPA only saw the number 3 once in four years. The only time I had to deal with my poor performances was the night of parent teacher conference. My parents would do the rounds, one teacher after another saying things like “Ryan is great! If he only applied himself he would be a great student” or, “if he would just turn in his work…”
I am not the smartest guy in the world, but I am no slouch either. If 70% will get you a C, doing 7 out of every ten assignments will get you that C. Of course you have to get 100% on those assignments, and hope that the teacher doesn’t make that 70% a C-, which many do. I was able to find ways to complete enough work well enough to remain off the radar of the administration and graduate without too much stress.
This also allowed me ample time to do the things that I wanted to do. I saw my friends, listened to music and read the books I wanted to read. I also spent many hours in the dark of my bedroom just thinking, planning out my life.
Of course the huge drawback to my plan was I severely limited my after high school options. I wanted to attend Arizona State University but would never be able to pay out of state tuition. Without a scholarship option and without even a B average, I was pretty much out of luck. It might be my one real regret, not doing better in school or understanding that the freedom I thought I was gaining was actually restricting my options.
Another drawback-I never gained any good study habits. It was pretty simple in high school to anticipate the things that would be on a test and prepare for those things. I could spend an hour or so preparing and get a solid score on most tests. I never learned to sit and pour my entire head and heart into my task.
This lack of study skills was blatantly obvious when I started at the Community College. I would find any excuse to skip out on studying. I failed to complete papers and scored horribly on quizzes and tests during my first quarter. In the second quarter, I took a critical theory course that required me to read, a lot. I found it impossible to find any desire to do it. I ended up not even going to the class as I was unprepared and in a class of fifteen, you stand out if you don’t participate.
After my realization that my chosen field of study was not going to be a good option, my disaster of a spring quarter (two E’s and an unofficial withdrawal in four classes) and my determination to not end up stuck at Granite Furniture my whole life, I decided to take two night courses. Two seemed a doable number and I wanted very badly to succeed. I took a Psychology course and the aforementioned Literature course. Night school was three days a week for 1 hour and 50 minutes per class. For the first time I was able to sit in class, listen to the entire lecture, take notes and participate, even offering insightful comments.
I rekindled my love of literature and realized I wanted badly to still teach. While I had loved learning abut history, I never loved it the way I loved learning about literature. I loved reading and tearing apart texts, applying historical perspectives, social perspectives and especially feminist perspectives. Centuries of misogynistic writing has left a very deep well of texts for young students to practice on. I loved applying these ideas to popular media, dissecting the underlying messages, far beyond the typical objectification of women or the obsession with wealth and whatnot. It was bliss.
I learned I loved learning, loved reading, loved the challenge of bettering myself. There was so much I had never thought of, so many things I had taken for granted or taken as factual, just because it was easy or made “sense”.
In order to graduate from a University, a student usually needs a certain level of mathematics. At the U and at SLCC, it was the dreaded Math 105, which became 1050 when they switched to semesters (why, I don’t really know). Because of my poor high school math grades, and my inability to pass the placement test, I had to start with basic algebra concepts. Math 35 it was called and it didn’t even count towards any degree at all. math 35 and math 99 were throw away courses that did not even show up on your GPA.
I am very grateful for these classes, however. They let me start all over, learning the basics at a time when was ready to learn them. I applied myself and found that while I was not brilliant at math, I did have the ability to learn it. I did quite well in my math courses, earning A’s (that didn’t count, bleh) in 35 and 99, an A- in Math 101 and a solid B+ in 105.
While it would be short selling myself to diminish my own determination in learning to learn, I have to give most of the credit to great professors, especially the two I had the first quarter I took night classes. These two inspired me with their love of teaching and love of the subjects they were sharing. I can’t remember the Psychology professors last name, but she was amazing. I took another course from her the following quarter. My English professor was Howard Shorthill and I took four other courses from him before he left SLCC for other things. He inspired me to challenge so many things I had always just agreed with, as well as any new ideas I thought were clever. He is the person I credit most with my academic career as it was his belief in my abilities that made me want to try harder, do better, grow up in many ways. I learned to be wrong in his classes and that was a hard lesson to learn. Learning that I had so much to learn, cliche maybe, but true nonetheless.