I am sure like me, there have been times when you have wondered what difference might have been made to your life, if your younger self had been gifted with the experience and knowledge you have accumulated over the years.
I invited several friends from the writing community to share their thoughts on this subject which I am sure you will enjoy as much as I did.
Today author Pete Springer shares his experiences in high school following a move to California in response to the prompt.
What I Wish I Knew Then by Pete Springer
Sometimes I feel like one of the luckiest people on Earth. I was born into a stable family with great parents and three terrific older brothers. I married a great lady, and we have an adult son who is making his mark in the world. We’re proud of the man he has become.
My career as an elementary teacher was rewarding, and I’m filled with pride as I watch many of my former students doing extraordinary things.
One of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that I tend to be more philosophical as I get older. Maybe that’s a symptom of having more time on my hands. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any smarter, but I do find myself thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned.
If I could have one do-over in life, it would be my high school years. After a happy childhood, we moved cross-country to California when I was starting high school. Maybe it was the combination of being at an awkward age, moving to a new place, and not having the self-confidence to embrace new challenges at the time, but those years weren’t a particularly happy time. I wasn’t depressed, but I wasn’t joyful either.
High school was cliquish, and for a guy who didn’t fit in any of the groups, I found that I kept to myself more and didn’t have a lot of close friendships.
Around the time I turned eighteen, I made a thoughtful decision to expand my horizons and to get out of my comfort zone. No more playing it safe and always resorting to only familiar and comfortable things.
I found my true self during college. I tried new things with enthusiasm and put forth the best version of myself. Not every unique experience turned out the way I hoped it would, but I was no longer living in fear. Those feelings of empowerment made me feel better about myself, and people accepted me for me.
I went from a scared teenager to a confident adult—someone who could stand in front of a group of people and command their attention with an outgoing and fearless persona. Don’t get me wrong—I still am fearful in many situations, but I’ve learned that we feel best about ourselves when we embrace new challenges.
Why am I thinking about this today? Perhaps it’s because I’ve just accomplished one of my goals—the completion of the first draft of a middle-grade chapter book.
While I was teaching, one of my favorite things to do during a typical school day was to read to my students. Each day I got to be a performer and act out the voices of the authors’ characters. I could be brash, silly, humble, mean, or any other characteristic that I imagined the author intended. It was a rush to hook the kids into the plots and the characters. I always tried to leave them begging for more. “Don’t stop! Keep reading!”
Those phrases were music to my ears.
Pete didn’t just read to his class he also took his new baby son in for them to meet
When I was teaching, I made a decision that I was going to try and write a children’s book to recapture that feeling. Having taught many ages, I decided to target those children I was most familiar with—middle grades. After first writing a combination memoir/advice book for new teachers, I decided the time was right. I went to a writer’s conference, found a critique group, and I’m going for it. What started as a vision of 30,000 words became 50,000 when I finished the first draft.
I’m a realist—maybe this will never come to fruition, but I’m proud of myself for having the courage to go for it. Now I’ve moved into the rewriting and editing phases, and there’s still a ton of work ahead. While I self-published my first book, I’m inclined to try and go the traditional publishing route this time. I know—much longer odds and a lot more time to make it happen. (But hey, I’m retired.) If it doesn’t happen, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I didn’t stand on the sidelines, and I gave myself a chance. Perhaps this will be too preachy for some, but my advice as a sixty-year-old to that scared teenager is, “Don’t let fear hold you back.”
©Pete Springer 2022
My thanks to Pete for sharing his thoughts about this prompt and I am sure many can relate to his experiences of those formative years and how unsettling they can be.
About Pete Springer
My name is Pete Springer. I taught elementary school for thirty-one years (grades 2-6) at Pine Hill School in Eureka, CA. Even though I retired over three years ago, my passion will always lie with supporting education, kids, and teachers.
When I came out of the teaching program many years ago, I realized how unprepared I was for what was in store for me in the classroom. My college education focused mostly on learning theory rather than the practical day-to-day challenges that all teachers face. Thankfully, I had some great mentors to lean on to help support me in the early part of my career.
I have made it my mission to pay it forward to the next generation of teachers. I was a master teacher to four student teachers, and I have several former students who are now teachers, including one who teaches at my former elementary school. That is pretty cool!
While I was teaching, I decided that one day I would write books for children. That ship is now in the harbor. I took some writing workshops, found a writing critique group, joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and I recently finished writing my first middle-grade novel. I’ve always connected with kids, and this is my new way of teaching.
My debut MG novel, Second Chance Summer, just got professionally edited, and I will be querying in the coming weeks.
One of the reviews for the book that I can also recommend
Pete Springer’s memoir about his first years teaching is a delightful story for new teachers and will have experienced educators nodding along with him. His early experiences remind all of us of the joy inherent in teaching:
“This job required about as much brainpower as my tree planting experience.”
“This is the story of how I fell in love with teaching and the joys and challenges that this noble profession provided to me over the course of thirty-one years.”
He breaks the book into chapters every teacher will understand:
How did i get here
Setting up your classroom
Working with students
Working with colleagues
Working with your boss
…and more. Aside from grading, parents, lunch duty, conferences, and yard duty, these are the biggest issues we teachers face. I’m a veteran teacher of thirty years and still I couldn’t wait to read Pete’s take on these timeless issues.
“Instead of saying, “Do everything my way, and you can become a successful teacher,” she was giving me her permission to find my way.”
“…storytelling was one of the most successful methods to get my students to pay attention.”
“…when we lose our calm, we are teaching them that it is okay to behave in this manner when something is not going right.”
Every new teacher will benefit from Pete’s daily experiences of what in the end results in a journey well traveled with more importance than most of us would car eto admit. Educational philosophies change. Favorite tools like iPads and Chromebooks change. What never changes is the fundamentals that Pete covers in this book:
“…tell the kids when I made similar mistakes growing up.”
“I do think that it is possible for parents or schools to provide too many rewards for kids.”
Overall an excellent book. If you’re a new teacher, I’d call this an essential read prior to your first day.
Thank you for dropping in today and it would be wonderful if you could share Pete’s post.. thanks Sally