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The UnCollege Blog

How A Teacher Inspired Me to Leave School

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Everything is related to everything else, we are not separate from what we love and believe, and there is no greater need than to express what is most necessary to you. 

That’s not a word for word quote, but that’s a summarization of everything my favorite professor taught me in high school. While his discipline was technically English, he taught life: He made an analysis of Paris Hilton’s success relate to literature, and transformed artful conversations into public speaking lessons, making modern-day news and politics connect with writers such as Jane Austen and Jack London. I was fascinated by his subject matter, but was even more enthralled with how he presented learning, like every page turned was the cusp of the next great discovery. 

He made me absolutely fall in love with learning.

He also inspired me to leave school.

Flash forward to my freshman year of college, in a class about Romantic Literature: The depressed, bored teenager slumped in a desk was nothing like the curious, voracious reader I had been in high school. I didn’t get it: I had loved school, had passionately thrown myself into reading and writing, and always assumed that feeling would grow in college. When it didn’t, and when I felt utterly disenchanted by learning being summarized in GPAs and being word-perfect on poetry recitations, it was disorienting. I developed near-crippling anxiety, second-guessed even my smallest decisions, and felt like a shell of a person, uninterested in everything I once loved. I knew it wasn’t right, but it wasn’t until one moment in my dorm room I realized why.

I was pulling boxes down from the top of my dorm room closet when a thick white binder fell out, sending papers flying. Frustrated, I bent to pick them up and a note scrawled across the top caught my eye: “Why does this matter?”

It was a note I had taken in a class with my favorite professor—who was always asking us what mattered and why, who always encouraged us to discover our version of the right answer. Of course, this note was about whatever short story we’d read that week, but it clicked: Why did anything I was doing matter to me?

It didn’t.

The reality is, there will always be things in life we have to do, whether we want to or not: We have to pay bills and occasionally go to the doctor and probably vacuum once in awhile. But there should also be things in our lives that matter to us, and learning should be one of them: Being inspired, fascinated, and challenged isn’t too much to ask—and somewhere, in our lust for perfect grades, a bulk of our education system has lost that, leaving students to find it for themselves, or wonder what is missing, like I did.

Learning, a culmination of our ideas and those of people who come before us, a combination of beliefs and curiosities, a blend of inspiration meeting action: That’s what it should be.

That professor’s words came whirling back: If everything really is related to everything else, that means all our learning, in school and out, connects. If we aren’t separate from what we love and believe, then we have to invest in those things. As for what’s necessary to me? Learning was the answer. School wasn’t.

I finished the last few weeks of school. Going into the registrar’s office to officially withdraw was the last time I stepped foot on that campus.

Sometimes I wonder what that professor—who ran a school, who had multiple degrees—would think about his words tipping the scale on my decision to leave college. Wouldn’t he want me to be a good student? 

The best teachers are the ones who want to create good LEARNERS. We owe it to ourselves to be good learners rather than just good students, to make learning a verb again, rather than something we are the passive recipients of. We learn equally through listening and asking questions, through experimenting, through reading and trying things and paying attention to different ways of thinking. The urge to be a good student is driven by A’s, but the urge to be a good learner is driven by a genuine love of learning. That shouldn’t be something rare; it should be something all our learning environments—including colleges and professors—encourage in us as people.

In every class I had with this professor, he emphasized thinking independently, coming up with our own opinions and answers, not just writing down the right one.

Who knew a teacher would inspire me to take learning off the page?

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