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Essay: Worst and best memories of high school

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“Write down your best and worst memory of high school,” I asked my 30 students on the first day of a spring-semester course in adolescent psychology at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. High school memories provide insight into important events that affect adolescent development.

I handed out index cards. I didn’t ask for names, but students could identify as male or female. 

Responses were similar to those in past years. For these students, all a year or less away from college graduation, much of high school was tedious. Some positive memories also emphasized the negative.

“Worst — the whole thing,” one female student wrote. “Best — graduation.”

Most of worst memories fell into two broad categories: social life and academic testing. Some painful memories of interactions with teachers, classmates and principals still sting. Here’s a sampling:

• SATs

• 5:15 wake-up

• “Failing earth science Regents exams three times.”

• Prom (from four students )

• “Sitting alone in the cafeteria”

• “AP physics (homework with no help from the teacher).”

• Being bullied (two students)

• “Taking Advanced Placement economics.”

• “Ripped my pants on the rock wall in gym in front of everyone, and I had to walk around in other gym clothes until my dad figured out what pants to bring me.”

• “Being pointed out and yelled at in my art class.”

• “Teachers bullying me and others.”

• “Failing one class and going to summer school … Never did that again.”

• “Not sure probably getting in trouble for my grades on various occasions.”

• “Teacher crying because a student stole her wallet.”

• “Literally every single aspect of it.”

• “Taking all state tests and SATs junior year.”

• “Science teacher called me out in front of the class.”

• “Being embarrassed by my principal for wearing shorts that were ‘too short.’”

• “Someone in my high school passed away everyone was sad and the halls were silent for weeks.”

• “Going through a breakup (ha-ha).”

• “Being in the principal’s office time to time.”

The best memories generally fell into social and extracurricular categories.

• “Senior skip day at the beach.”

• Prom (three students)

• Senior trip (two students)

• “Meeting my boyfriend.”

• “Sports day senior year.”

• “Late nights with friends working on musical sets.”

• “Did not have to get a job.”

• “Hanging out with my friends every Friday after school.”

• Nothing

• “Drinking with my friends.”

• “Tennis practice and matches.”

• Baseball

• “Making the soccer team.”

• “Becoming friends with the guy I’m marrying.”

• “Wrestling my senior year.”

• “Graduating at 16.”

The best memories offered clues about what would make high school better: challenging activities that focus students' attention on a task (not the test that came after it), mostly done in a group, and which allow for autonomy in choices. Most were extracurricular. Only one, “watching plays in English,” happened in the classroom. No best memories mentioned a teacher.

Teacher creativity and high school curriculum in general are hurt by the need to test, sort and number. Students can’t change this, but they can be nicer to each other, and teachers can be kinder to them, which would have an immediate, positive influence on school climate. As other memories fade, students always remember how they were treated.

Reader Gerard T. Seifert lives in Patchogue.