5 Things School Did Not Prepare Me For

Filling your child's backpack with this year's essentials is much easier when you follow these 5 shopping tips.
Filling your child’s backpack with this year’s essentials is much easier when you follow these 5 shopping tips.

Watching the school bus roll down the road got me thinking. I always thought if I worked hard in school, I would be prepared for adult life. In academic areas, such as science and calculus, school did a sufficient job of educating me (well, more than sufficient, since I’ve never used calculus since leaving school!) But to be honest, when it comes to a variety of “life management” skills, I left school a bit unprepared. Here are some situations I had to learn to deal with on my own. Maybe some will look familiar to you.


1. The pressure to multitask
By its very nature, school happens one class at a time. In fact, trying to sneak in homework for another class is strictly prohibited. In contrast, real life frequently requires me to manage multiple tasks at once. Even if I wish to pursue a single focus, it isn’t always possible.

2. The 24-Hour Communication Cycle
This may be largely a reflection of my age, but I remember having built-in boundaries for how and when I communicated. School and activities were my prime “social” time, phone access was limited by the length of the cord, and TV options were few. This gave me set windows when it made sense to get things done. Today, the prolific and steady availability of communication makes it difficult to know how and when to “turn off.”

3. Unpredictability
Remember the first day of school? The teacher handed out a syllabus listing exactly what would be covered and when. Not so much with adult life. Often I think I know what the day holds, but unexpected tasks (and their inevitable demands) frequently pop up. The washing machine breaks, the child is sick, the meeting gets moved back 3 hours, there is an unexpected need to run to school and drop something off. All of these things now need to be fit into the schedule.

4. Perpetual Interruptions
In the classroom environment, interruptions are rare. Maybe announcements come over the loudspeaker, but once class begins, lessons proceed uninterrupted. As an adult, interruptions are the norm. It is hard to get any work done in the office because people are streaming in with questions. Parents can’t have a complete thought at home because a child needs immediate assistance. This is a challenge because interruptions stop our flow, throw us off our game, and have an associated recovery time.

5. The need to say “No”
Back when I was in school, the word “no” was rarely allowed. I couldn’t say “no” to a teacher, a hall monitor, a parent… Instead, students are expected to always say “yes,” and to say it politely. As adults, many of us struggle with learning that sometimes we actually need to say “no” when people ask us to do things. This can be a tough skill to acquire, especially for those with a strong urge to please.

6. Having more stuff than space
School teaches us about many things, but not how to manage our belongings. In school I had a locker, and while it may have been cramped, all I had to store there were books, notebooks, lunch and clothing. At the end of the year, I threw most of it away. When I became an adult – and especially when I had children – the amount of stuff I had to manage grew exponentially. Yet no one had ever taught me how to sort through belongings, prioritize space, and establish systems. Achieving proficiency in these areas is challenging, especially when we are simply trying to make it through the day.

The bottom line: school was good for some things, but  for many facets of life, school provided little-to-no training. If you have a vague feeling that you ought to be more efficient, more productive, more organized or less scattered, you are not alone. Most of us are trying to figure it out as we go. Knowing this can give us the freedom to stop the self-recrimination and ask for help when we need it.

What do you wish school had better prepared you for?

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