There’s a school bus stop down the street from my apartment. I pass by it on the way to work each morning and, when class is in session, always manage to get stuck sitting a car or two behind the bus—close enough to see the pre-teens climbing aboard, close enough to notice how slowly they move.
When class is out of session, it takes me five minutes to drive to work. When it’s in, it takes 15.
It’s still summer, but I went to Target the other day looking for a candle and some toothpaste and ended up in what used to be the garden department, looking at notepads, printer paper, and bottles of glue.
Employees were still stocking the shelves as I walked by, slowly, taking in the smell of paper, erasers and, probably also glue. I remember the rush of standing in those aisles when they were crowded with other parents and kids, holding the sacred list of what I would need for the school year ahead, hunting for the most personalized version—pleading with my mom for the things that weren’t always the cheapest but most closely represented me, or who I wanted to be that year.
I think about that girl when I drive by the bus stop in the morning. I see her in their faces and I wish, I wish they would listen now. I wish I could’ve spoken to her then.
If I could, here are five things I’d really like to say.
1. Read everything
Standardized tests make it easy to skim, to focus on memorizing the facts instead of learning. One day, you’ll pay a lot of money for the same access to information and people willing to teach it to you—save a little and read it all now.
2. Take risks
I know, being in middle and high school feels so dangerous. I promise being an adult is more dangerous! Now is the time to try new things, to make mistakes in class, in work, in relationships.
3. Follow your interests
Along the same line, spend time, and take risks, doing things you enjoy. Sign up for every activity, try a sport, join a club or two. Don’t do this to impress others—do it to learn more about you and when you find something you like, go all in for it.
4. Speak up more in class
The teachers, and maybe even the other students, really do want to hear what you have to say. It’s okay to have an opinion. It’s okay to be the smartest kid in class, and it’s okay not to be too.
5. Everyone is doing their best
Maybe the most important thing you can learn is that the teachers, staff members and your peers all face their own struggles. Be kind to them, and be kind to yourself. School is hard, and life is too.
I’m not sure if a younger me would’ve listened to this but I’d like to think she would. And this season, as your kids or the neighbors, your coworkers or friends go back to school, I hope they’ll listen too.