Oh, Secondary School, what fond memories I have! How I miss riding up the rainbow road to school on my unicorn every morning, to be greeted by my smiling peers. What a treat it was to sit around in a circle of love sharing all positive thoughts about one another. Oh what a shame it was to leave behind the best days of my life in such a colourful place!
*cue the scratching vinyl*
Hold up, whaaat?
Whatever popped into your head reading that most certainly wasn’t my school, for a matter of fact, I doubt it’s even on this planet.
The horrible brutal truth about secondary school is it’s not all rainbows and roses, it’s not a walk in the park, in fact it’s far from it. For most people it’s an experience to be endured, more so than enjoyed – pay close attention to the word “most” – this doesn’t apply to everyone. There are some people who are fortunate enough to have had an all-round pleasant experience of second level education which is of course great-for them. But on the other hand, there’s a large majority of people who for whatever reason found secondary a difficult period in their life. This post is for those people because they are the ones who need it.
I was, partly, one of those people. In this post I hope to share the wisdom I gained from my experience, but before we get to that there’s some business I need to round off first.
Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start (this one’s for all you musical lovers- my posts are literally getting cringier by the day). Okay so secondary school- what springs to mind? Mornings, gum, gossip, more gum ..
A lot of the time when people discuss their negative thoughts about secondary school they direct all their anger at the institution itself. And yes to an extent, I agree with this, the education system in Ireland is extremely unjustly but that is a topic for another day. For me, I believe, the biggest factor contributing to the negativity surrounding secondary schools is society itself. And who makes up society? US – parents, teachers, students. Looking at it in that light it’s easy to see why people are more inclined to shift the blame on the school and it’s rules rather than looking at ourselves, I mean nobody likes accepting blame.
On top of all the, 13+ years, influence you’ve gained from your homelife, secondary school throws you in with even more influence from your peers. Speaking for myself, I came from a small country school with about 60 students all coming from the immediate area. My average day consisted of playing cops and robbers in school, travelling the whole 2 minute journey home to eat dinner then maybe walking to the nearest shop with my friends before my daily breakdown at Mario Bros on the DS. Clearly I wasn’t as tech savvy as primary school kids nowadays but I’m sure a lot of people reading this now will be able to relate.
Secondary school was a shock to the system. Suddenly I was in classes half the size of my primary school with people from neighbouring towns I had never taken much notice of before. To be quite honest, I don’t think I even had friends from a “town” before this, as I lived in the country almost all my friends were neighbours of mine. As my friend group began to grow, so did my “teen tumour”. The “teen tumour” is what I like to call the part of the brain that eat, sleeps, breaths everything stereotypically teenager-ish. You know- clothes, popularity, music, boys- basically everything to do with image and “fitting in”. Fitting in is a big thing in secondary school. I think it has to do with a mixture of 2 things: human nature and social influence. Naturally, as humans we crave security and comfort. Animals achieve a sense of this by moving in flocks or herds, often, so too do humans. Society is the part that influences what it is our “flock” is following. Although society has been a factor our whole lives, secondary school tends to be a time where your parents pull back the reigns a bit and let you, to a certain extent, guide your own life. So in other words, it’s a time where you have more control over what factors of society you have access to ie. the internet, tv, certain people. As I said earlier, you’re exposed to a lot of new people from new places, often with different backgrounds and experiences to you. These people leave a mark on you, because whether you realise it or not all the new things they introduce you to leave an impression which influences you. These people could be encouraging you to watch new tv shows, listen to new music, wear certain clothes, all of which you’ll most likely oblige to with little hesitation as your biggest concern is to “fit in”. I think at this age we are most impressionable, as our whole lives up until this point we’ve been following our parents or teachers influence, it’s like we’re naturally programmed to follow what’s presented to us so we just soak all of it up. I remember buying yoga pants for no other reason than that every other girl did it so instinctively I felt I needed to too. It had nothing to do with liking the pants or having any real desire to own a pair but rather simply because it was what was done.
This is where shit gets complicated. In about second year, as everybody now knows each other and the first year novelty of meeting new people has worn off, groups begin to form according to status (primarily based on shifting and who you know), similar interests (or faked interests) and convenience. As we’ve already established secondary school is all about “fitting in” and “following the flock” .. so then what about the people who don’t feel they fit into any particular group? Maybe they fit in in certain areas like music but their clothing choice differs? They can’t split themselves in two so which group do they choose? Can you fit into two groups? Is that a rule?
This is the catch with secondary school. Although your freedom is extended in comparison to primary, you still have boundaries. There’s still limits. Although the choice of people in my school grew from the countryside to the extended towns, it is still confined to the immediate surrounding areas. As a result of this, the influences and “normality” is relatively the same in all areas. I mean think about it – the telly 2km over the road isn’t gonna be showing anything drastically different to the telly here? We’re all watching pretty similar, if not the exact same things, being influenced in similar ways. We’re all going out to the same places, seeing the same people, wearing the same things – that’s forming a sense of normality. So now put someone in the mix who’s not wearing the usual shit – it’s gonna cause confusion. People are gonna be uncomfortable because they can’t understand it so they’re instinctive response is to reject it.
This is the core problem with secondary schools. “Normality” is created. Our social circle is limited hence so are our influencers. Of course the internet is vast with thousands of influences available at our fingertips but it’s a lot harder to embrace your differences in the public eye, where you know you are open to criticism, in comparison to the comfort of your own home. For me I found fashion a big issue. Whilst other girls were discussing the thousandth shade of nude lipstick they wanted to buy, I was dreaming of painting my lips blue. And for some reason people could just not get their head around why I would want avatar lips. And it wasn’t that it was overly personal criticism, it was just that people could quite literally not understand why I would want such things, while on the other hand I could not understand why it was so hard to accept my style. This applies to much more than clothes though, there’s a sense of “normality” in theory too. From the moment we are born we are building up a sense of right and wrong and it just keeps adding and adapting through our lives. Depending on how you were raised, you may have strong beliefs on certain topics and little room for consideration of opposing beliefs. Once again the fact secondary school students are usually from a reasonably similar area, their beliefs are usually similar creating.. “normality”. Anyone who questions these beliefs/thoughts usually receives guff like how dare you think for yourself and challenge societies norms, jeese get in line!! So to sum up secondary school in two words, I’d have to say: closed minded. Yeah go on, hit me with your hate for calling y’all out. Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone but as a general rule I think it’s fair to say secondary school has a pretty much “follow the flock” type attitude and anyone who goes against this mostly gets dirty looks so I think “close-minded” is a fair way of describing that.
Now to get to the exciting part!!!!!
Secondary school doesn’t last forever, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For me this was college so I’m gonna describe my experience from my point of view as a college student. But I am aware not everyone will be attending college so I’m gonna touch on that too so bear with me people!!
For those of you planning to attend CoLLeGe let me just tell you right now it’s gonna be amazing. And I know this is a bold statement, I don’t even know you or your story so how can I make promises like that? You’re totally right, I can’t! But what I can say is, if you want it to be amazing then it will be. I’m a firm believer that life is what you make of it, you have a choice to look at the glass as half empty or half full. It’s up to you to create the life you want for yourself. The amazing thing about college is it opens you up to so many opportunities to help you achieve these goals. Without boring you too much with the details (I’ll save that for another day), prior to college I suffered a lot with negative thoughts surrounding all aspects of my life- image, friends, confidence- you name it and I probably worried about it. Coming to college my aim was to reverse this and become a more confident, positive person and honestly it felt as though the universe wanted this just as much as I did because opportunities seemed to keep falling into my lap.
Firstly I think the biggest problem surrounding secondary schooling is friends.. “Why didn’t they invite me” .. “I wonder are they talking about me” .. “She just looked at me funny”. Forget it. Erase them thoughts. That shits so last year. Trust me, in college you’re gonna be like Charlie wandering around the Chocolate Factory with the amount of people you’ll have on selection for your friends list. It’s common sense really, going from a school of about 600 students to a college of about 16,000 you are bound to find at least one or two solid friends. I’m all for uniqueness and such but let’s be realistic here, you’re probably not the only person on the planet who loves Paramore (unfortunately atm it still feels like it) and with a choice of 16,000 people it’s likely there’s a few more parawhores in there. The point is college is the time to find “your people”. I think a lot contributes to the fact friendships are easier in college. The big one, I think, is the fact you’re in a specific course surrounded by people who also picked that specific course. Ultimately, this heightens the chance of you guys “clicking” as you already share the common ground of your course choice, who knows what else you can bond over! Usually people in the same course are on pretty similar wave lengths with regards all aspects of life. In my case, as a journalism student, I am in a course surrounded by people who share a love for writing. Writing is a creative past time so this increases the likelihood of those within the course perhaps sharing a similar love for other creative things like art, photography, fashion >>> ie. be my best friend. So you want to do law in college – just from that simple course choice you will have the understanding that everyone in that course shares the same passion for justice and order as you do, that creates an automatic bond as you already have a basic understanding of one another.
But let’s say despite all this, your course peers aren’t cutting it for ya? Don’t worry, clubs & socs got your back. I’m no expert on the colleges nationwide but I’m sure they’re somewhat similar to mine so you shouldn’t be too short of a selection of clubs. For me, there’s more of a variety of clubs & societies available than I even thought possible! The beauty of this, with regards friends, is that they’re literally aimed at specific interests- you’re not gonna meet someone in surf club who hates surfing, you’re all there because you like it. It’s similar to course choices in the sense it creates an automatic common ground between all members opening you up to new friendships.
To further extend your friend group there’s parties and night outs, which I can assure you there is no shortage of. It’s no secret that college is notorious for it’s drinking scene but a lot more factor into nights out than just that. Before college I had only ever been to 2 different nightclubs, both within my extended local area and a couple of pubs. You can probably guess what I’m gonna say next- this meant the music genres were limited and the vibe was kept quite general. Given that college has such a diverse network of people from not only all over Ireland but all over the world, this creates a need for a diverse range of clubs and pubs for all types of people. All niches are satisfied because everyone is getting exactly what they want without interfering with anyone else’s needs. If you want mainstream pop there’s a place for you, you want oldies and Indie vibes I know the spot, techno? sure thing. That’s the thing about college, there’s something and someone for everyone.
Another obvious perk about college is the FrEEd0m. You know the reigns we were talking about previously?? Well they’re all yours now baby!! You are in control. Once again, using myself as an example, I live in student accommodation and only come home for the weekends, as do most college students. This literally means I went from living at home for almost 19 years of my life to living in a house with 5 strangers 5 days a week. Let me break that down for you- that’s 19 years of my life, spent being pampered through potty training all the way up to adulthood coming home every evening from school to a cooked dinner on the table. My whole life up until college worked on a rather rigid timeframe. Schooling, from primary all the way through secondary, were similar in the sense they both entailed a strict schedule- get up, get the bus, endure school, come home, eat dinner, arse about, sleep, repeat. That went on 5 days a week, followed by 2 days to catch up on all the sleeping and arsing about I missed out during the week. Bear in mind, all of this went on whilst being confined to the limits set by my parents. Not that my parents were ever strict, I consider myself quite lucky in how liberal my parents are, but regardless of this I still lived under their roof which meant I still answered to them. I wanted a day off school? Gotta run it past mom. Wanted friends over? Dad. Wanted to go somewhere? Ask mom. And these were just my home bosses, school came with their own. You don’t have a choice in school, you’ve a set of compulsory subjects you simply have to do and a minimal selection of optional subjects to choose from. As if this isn’t bad enough you have a list of rules the size of the bible and teachers breathing down your neck every second of the day waiting for you to do some stupid shit so they get a chance to scrawl their signature across your journal.
And then you get to college and it’s like a weight is taken off your shoulders. Suddenly you are living on your own timeframe, living your own life for YOU. College schedules, depending on your course, tend to be a lot more flexible, it’s unusual to have the same rigidity as you would have had in secondary school. For example, my starting hours differ everyday- I might start at 9am one day and start at 3pm the next, I could have 3 hours one day and 1 hour the next. This leaves you with much more free time than you probably would have ever experienced before. Living away from home also eliminates the problem of your parents watchful eye. Although I don’t encourage people to take advantage of this for the wrong reasons, it’s useful for practical reasons such as simply living an adult life. It enables you to make your own decisions without your parents whispering in your ear. Obviously there’s the fun aspect of this, partying in college is a given so living away from home gets rid of the issue of having to face your parents questions about where you stayed last night or why you’re home so late- you don’t have to answer to anyone. As I said you’re the director of your own life which brings with it a lot of responsibility but with the correct balance it can be a lot of fun.
N0 C0llege, No Pr0blem
Did yis think I was forgetting about ye?
Of course there’s the thousands of people of which, for whatever reason, college is just not an option for. And before I go any further, just to make it absolutely crystal clear, that is perfectly okay!! There’s no “one fits all” in life, not everything will suit everyone and college is no different. For some people, education may have never been a strong point or particular interest and that’s okay. Although I do believe in the importance of education, it’s not the be all and end all. I think in contemporary society, colleges and universities are hyped up on the basis of status more so than someones intellectual ability. I’m a university student and I’ll be the first to admit my future career doesn’t require the brain of a biologist or pythagorus’s theorem. It’s a practical job which requires a particular set of skills which one can learn through practise, as I am sure plenty other jobs can relate to. Often the way it goes is, if one is not gifted with their mental capacity to absorb information, this is made up for in their physical capacity to do things with their hands. Basically if you’re not brainy, you’re handy. Neither one is better than the other, they’re both equally as important to help the world go round. My advice is, and please don’t hold me to it as I’m no expert, but if you hate school then why put yourself through the torture of going through more years learning from the books in college? Why not focus your attention and energy towards looking for some practical work for yourself perhaps by seeking a permanent position in a job or looking at available apprenticeships? And I know you might be thinking “but what social life will I have then?”. Honestly I don’t know what way your social life will go but what I do know is if you are in college doing a course you hate simply for the social aspect, you will not be happy in yourself. You will either end up free riding a course you hate for the full duration and end up with a degree in a job you despise, or you’ll end up dropping out or failing and having to deal with your parents disgust and disappointment in the money they wasted. I honestly believe when you are true to yourself and do what you love, the universe will reward you. It’s pretty similar to college courses as in an apprenticeship or such you’re gonna meet similar people and blah blah blah, you know the story by now.
Basically the moral of the story is don’t be disheartened by secondary school. If things are going bad I can guarantee they will get better. This is the most cliche thing to say but always be true to yourself. I know that’s a simple 5 worded motto but it packs a lot of meaning and is a lot harder said than done, but please try and live by that. Write it down, say it out loud every day, re-read it. Do whatever it takes until you start to believe it. Because when you start being YOUrself, you will attract what is meant for YOU. Secondary school may be too suffocating for you to spread your wings but the minute you leave that place just do it. Just fly and don’t look back.