Our education system: where good enough is just perfect

I’m running on about 3.5 hours of sleep right now and, yeah, it’s my own fault.

I’d like to blame it on Jaegermeister (not really because I’d probably be puking now instead of writing), but I’m blaming it on my stupid self instead. The problem is that I sometimes strive to be perfect.

Stop laughing (besides, that just means you know me). Yes, I realize I’m not perfect, and that I look, act, seem nothing like a perfectionist. I have mountains of un-opened mail heaped on my desk and paint splatters on the tile in my laundry room, a cat who will only pee in front of the dishwasher (I don’t get it either but there’s now a litter box there), and two teens who are, well, teens. I’m reminded of my flaws hourly, even more often when people are awake.

But my work, that’s different. Whether I’m researching, writing, planning, studying, whatever, I have to make it perfect. If I don’t, someone might look past this work and see all the messes listed above.

This, BTW, is obviously not the right approach to school.

When you’ve been out for a while like I have, you forget how much reading and other bullshit that isn’t really bullshit they load on you in school. And you forget that it’s expected you’ll half-ass most of it, which is why they give you more.

It’s that ask-for-a-mile thing. The instructor assigns three readings. All she’s really hoping for is 1.5, but if that’s all she actually asked for, you’d read the first paragraph of the first article and go have a beer.

In the 20 years that I’ve been out of school, I’ve forgotten this. So I’ve been reading every word of every assignment, sometimes re-reading, and taking detailed notes, which means staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning to do it, then starting over again at 5:23 a.m. the next day.

Ugh.

This same shit — this innate (or inane) desire to make everything perfect — is part of what spit me out of the workforce, too.

I’d like to think my kids are actually to blame for this and so many other things. For example, before I had them, I’d grab something from the ‘fridge for lunch and eat the crumbs on my floorboards for breakfast on the way to work. Now I dedicate time each night to making real lunches for everyone and ensure breakfast is ready for the next day, too, so everyone makes it out on time. No one ever actually does but that’s a different story.

Then there’s their inadvertent impact on my work. Kids caused me to care about stupid things like job security. (Before kids, I’d go through a job a year. Hello unemployment!) But when you’re in marketing, job security can be hard to come by. You’re the first ones to go during hostile takeovers, which happen all the time (or almost never), and stock market crashes (there’s been one in my lifetime). You pretend to be upbeat and positive, even though colleges continue to pump out newer, cheaper, less-bitter replacements for you. You know you’re expendable. If you’re a writer, you’re likely an introvert who hates being called out or called upon, and who hides in the corner pretending to be invisible when someone mentions layoffs. Your only form of job security is obsessing over every word and comma placement.

I was both a marketer and a writer. That’s a double whammy. Like a neurosis speedball.

Did I mention I’m also a procrastinator? Maybe the fact that I’m blogging when I have homework and angry clients nagging at me speaks for itself.

I know I’ve got to find a way to convince myself not to be like this. I’m pretty sure that, as a teacher, “perfection” is a pipe dream, kind of like a living wage. Perfection doesn’t fit into the education world, where you’re juggling 150+ students and 150+ individual styles. Kids learn differently, think differently. You’ll never hit it out of the park with an assignment because there will always be a kid in the class, like my son, who hates it.

“She’s making us write tweets,” he told me once about an assignment in his English class, “… from Ben Franklin’s point of view.” Ahh, Ben, the air-bathing, syphilitic wonder (why didn’t they tell us that in school? I might have given a shit.)

“Add French whores. He was quite the fan.”

“I hate social media,” he reminds me. “This is stupid.”

See? What seems like a really fun exercise to me (I’m already writing tweets in my brain) is dreadful to the super-smart-and-utterly-unmotivated-pain-in-the-ass teen who lives in the west bedroom. And I’ll have 150 other kids who are completely different and just like him to contend with, too. No matter what I do, whether it’s a social media writing assignment or giving them the recipe to poop gold coins, someone is either going to hate it, not understand it, not listen to it, or just not care.

No, I’m not dressing as Ben Franklin to get their attention. Well, maybe.

Even as a business owner, “perfect” was pretty stupid. I’m pretty sure I spent (and still do spend) way too much time making someone else’s blog or promotional email copy absolutely amazing, knowing full well no one really reads that stuff.

My ROI is in the toilet.

So, yeah, “Good enough” is sounding like a goal I should get behind, even if I’m not so happy about it. Approach school like I would approach cleaning a bathroom, closet or, god forbid, the junk drawer, where “good enough” is still a few rungs up the ladder compared to their current state. In fact, with “good enough,” I’d probably be giddy.

Side note: how many times do I say “giddy” in a blog post? I think it’s a lot. That tells me I should probably sleep or get a thesaurus. I’ve got more reading in the morning.

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When you’re really old, really in school and really don’t know where the bar is.

One of the big differences in being an adult in college — with kids, a mortgage and a goal of achieving something this time rather than just going to school to hide from the real world: you’re ticked when your class is cancelled for a day. Particularly when it happens on the first day of class.arizona-asphalt-beautiful-490466

This was my day 2. I had one class at the satellite campus that’s only about 25 minutes from my house (the real campus where I’m taking the rest of my classes is an hour 10 minutes away). I was excited to get to go the hometown branch. My adviser was thrilled that someone was taking this class. I jammed on my work for the day so I could wrap up everything that needed to happen for clients before class…and the instructor no shows.

If I had been a 19-year-old undergrad in Texas, I would have celebrated at happy hour. But I’m 52. And I’m in Utah. Which means I don’t even know where the bars are any more. K, that’s probably difference number two.

As an old person, I’m in class to learn. I’m not just doing time in my classes or jumping hoops — I save both of those for trips to the gym. I’m trying to get everything out of every last second and every last dime that I’m putting into this.

There are five other students in the class when I arrive. I’m two minutes late. No instructor. For the first few minutes, we all sit in silence. Then I start asking questions. Who are you? Why are you taking this class? What’s your major? Silence in public places freaks me out.

I learn that I’m the odd woman out in here – everyone else is studying elementary education, which I think would be cute and charming and utterly frustrating. Ask my kids: I’m not the sweet, motherly type. I still think the best part of their elementary years were the Cheezits I justified buying for their lunches.

“Mom, why do we never have Cheezits?”

“Shush, Mommy’s trying to zip her pants. I don’t know why they don’t fit anymore.”

I also learn that elementary ed students are on a super-tight track intended to ensure they graduate on time. Some of them need this class to happen at this very moment or they’ll be delayed another semester. They’ve bribed babysitters and workplaces to be here.

Finally someone tells us what’s happening, which amounts to “Go home. We don’t know where the instructor is.” I look the instructor up on LinkedIn and learn where he is right now: teaching at a local elementary school. I also find another section of the course that I can take, although it means I’ll be in class at the main campus, which is where I take most of my classes, even if it is approximately 1 hour away, for 10+ hours on Wednesdays. I almost sign up, but then have a change in heart. I’ll wait another day.

The next day, I ask the department what’s going on with the class at the satellite. They tell me they just found out that the time will have to change because the instructor can’t be there (I could have told them that yesterday). Oh and if I drop, they won’t have enough students to carry the class and all of the other students will have to find an alternative because no one wants to teach at the satellite campus.

So now it’s on me. I can stay with the class and when the hack instructor decides not to teach it or not to show up anymore, I get to be SOL (college makes me talk like it’s 1990), or I can take care of myself and sign up for a different section and those other five people will be SOL or get stuck driving an extra two hours to take this single class. Easy choice right? I should drop the class and ruin it for everyone. I get to be the asshole!

But I’m not cool with that.

Alright, if you were personally acquainted with me, you’d probably think, “Aren’t you normally an asshole?” Yeah, on the surface, I usually come across that way. I yell horrible things at dumbass drivers from the security of my SUV. I’m open and honest with my children, telling them that their shoes make them look like clowns or hookers or hooker clowns, remind them that they’re already a zit factory as they cram a candy bar down their gullets, make my son fold his laundry before he can rot his brain with video games (although Grand Theft Auto did teach him how to drive), tell my daughter that cats are already peeing on the towel she left on her bathroom floor. I create a stink until my cable TV provider gives me a discount, complain in stores when coupons aren’t added properly, once publicly outed a utility for an error in a promotional email because it was putting my $100 rebate at risk. I send hate mail and messages to politicians. And I think unicorns are dumb. I’m. An. Asshole.

But then you get to know me and you realize that it’s all show. Deep down, except for that unicorn thing, I really just want to see people be treated fairly (unicorns should be annihilated). If I forfeit my desired outcome because someone else’s seems more important, I just have to deal with it. I’d be the suckiest lawyer ever.

BTW, this kind of approach does nothing for your dreams of becoming a corporate executive. Back in my full-time marketing days — like two weeks ago — I watched people sprint up the corporate ladder with the help of lies and sketchy ethics. I knew I’d never make it to the top the day I told my boss at a late-stage tech startup that we had thousands of fake social media followers AND that someone had been creating fake websites that pointed to our site. When I reviewed his next presentation to the board touting our incredible social media growth and boost in Google search rankings, I realized he was the one purchasing all the fakes and that I’d never make it to the top if I kept approaching lies like a Boy Scout. I never even thought of making stuff up to make my work look better!

These are the kind of things that go through my head when I think I’m about to make an asshole move. I sweat the small stuff that I shouldn’t even be thinking about. Frequently that means I don’t decide anything.

This time, however, it’s different. I let my bank account and its abundance of zeros in all the wrong places, which cry of missed opportunity, make the decision. I drop the satellite class and enroll in the other one. Safe!

It’s empowering. I’m strong, invincible, capable of making a decision. All those “asshole” thoughts leave my head.

If only college had done this to me last time, I could be rich right about now.

Is this a bad call? Becoming a teacher after 50.

I’ve been out of class for longer than the person next to me has inhabited this earth. Welcome to my new existence.

For the next two years, I’m a teacher in training. During the first year — a.k.a., now — I’m learning everything I can about keeping my wits about me while standing in front of a group of 12-18 year olds trying to convince them to give a rat’s ass about any of the books or writing assignments we’ll cover. I can feel their excitement already. The second year: hands-on time. Student teaching. I’ll get there when I get there.

In the two classes I’ve been to today, I’ve learned the following:

-I fall somewhere between the age of my classmates’ moms and Nanas. I’m positive we’ll have lots to talk about.
-Free teaching labor starts early — I already need to commit to 20 hours of volunteer time, maybe more.
-Teacher classes come with free popcorn. I like that, although my hips and thighs aren’t so forgiving.
-I’m still not sure why I’m here, but I keep going through the motions anyway.

K, full disclosure: it’s not a life-long dream of mine to become a teacher. It IS something I’ve been thinking about for about 15 years or so. Maybe six or eight years ago, I decided I should end my career by switching to teaching.

But I’m full of shit and big ideas that lack follow through. Why should this time be different?

When my most recent career took a really unfortunate turn, I lost all motivation to keep slinging marketing swill for companies I never cared about. So I sat out for a while and worked freelance, all the while pretending to look for my next career move, while secretly and quietly figuring out what to do with my life.

A few months ago, I decided it was time. Running my own freelance business — the fallback of every writer ever — was unbelievably unfulfilling. The hours were great, the pay frequently dismal (I hate begging for clients), I still had to work with the occasional asshole (don’t kid yourself, even as a freelancer, you’re never really solo), and I was going nowhere. So I entertained a few ideas about what I could do next. Rockstar was out — I don’t do drugs so well anymore and I can’t sing, although I’m not convinced either is a prerequisite. I’m not funny enough to be a standup comedian. And if I haven’t written the great American novel or screenplay by now, it’s probably not happening.

So “teaching” is sort of where I landed. Mind you, my tuition bill has yet to be paid and late charges don’t hit for another week, so I’m still not fully committed.

This could be the biggest mistake of my life. I realize this as I’m on the shuttle bus from the parking lot to class and the guy sitting next to me with a skateboard asks if I know that the bus is going to campus. “Yeah,” I tell him. I can tell he’s confused because I’m not dressed like a professor. I’m expecting a lot of that.

After my first class, which was filled with the kind of people who make me want to jam sharp objects in my eyes to dull the pain of being near them, I quickly checked what it would take for me to get my Ph.D. in a useless subject instead. Years. Like I’d be 60 before I finished and still wouldn’t have a marketable skill that I didn’t already possess. And I’d probably just land in marketing again. But maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all.

I’ll give it one more class.

Fortunately or fatefully, my second class is better. People seem normal. Smarter, stronger, more accepting. Someone asks the instructor what his favorite TV show is and I want him to respond “Welcome Back, Kotter,” but I’m probably the only one in this classroom who remembers that. Still, I’m sort of excited by the end of class and for a brief second, I’m positive this is what I want to do. I’m sure of it … until I check my voicemail and the dozen or so texts from my teens. Insurance company needs my mileage or should they’re remove my discount? Geriatric cat won’t take his thyroid medication and another cat threw up on the bed. Do I know where my son’s favorite coffee mug is? When will I be home? And is it okay if they open the Amazon box because someone already did. Do they need to do the dishes or can they just leave everything in the sink for me? (Why, yes, what a charming surprise!)

Shit.

Now I’m officially on the fence, which, yes, is an improvement. I go to my final class. I’m bribed with candy. The instructor starts to talk about doing hard things, which she presents as a true story that doesn’t actually pertain to me but I know what she’s doing. She mentions specifically that it’s easier to give up and the challenge lies in moving forward on your own volition. Personally, guilt works better than my own volition, and the guilt trip is coming down on me hard right now, especially since I’m pretty sure she’s saying all of this to and about me, regardless of what everyone else who’s in this classroom and staring down a future of $40k/yr believes.

So, yeah, for now I’ll stay. I haven’t paid tuition yet so what do I have to lose?