School has always been easy for me. I’m a classic underachiever, content to skate by with a B instead of actually studying to get an A. I sailed through most tests in high school and college, cocky in the knowledge that I possessed the critical thinking skills to pull off most multiple choice answers and good enough recall of whatever I had crammed the night before to be able to regurgitate whatever was needed. I had already finished a Bachelor’s degree. Beauty school would be a piece of cake.
The only prerequisite for most cosmetology programs is a 10th grade education, so reading and performance standards aim for that level. What distinguishes a school is the pass rate of the state licensing exam, not the quality of education. A standard curriculum must be followed in order to be sure that all licensees meet the same basic requirements. That curriculum stoops to the lowest common denominator: idiot proof.
I discovered that learning at too slow a pace was infinitely more painful than too fast. Every day in class our teacher Mr. Zappo droned on and on from Milady’s Standard Cosmetology, more often than not stumbling over the technical terms. The first few chapters of the book included Life Skills, Your Professional Image and Communicating for Success, concepts that were unclear to a majority of the girls around me. Theory every morning was like being trapped in a third grade classroom with a crowd of hungover post-adolescents. I ignored lecture entirely, reading ahead and copying terms from the textbook. Filling in the blanks of my workbook without going insane was harder than the 500-page reading assignments and term papers that had challenged me so in college. I longed for dark auditoriums, PowerPoint slides, blue books. I could feel cobwebs growing in my brain.
Few things could have made still listening to lecture for eight hours a day worse. Learning that we were banned from the salon for nine weeks definitely did it. A few girls were not seen in class the next day. In addition to life skills, we needed to know principles of hygiene and sanitation before we were legally cleared to put scissors to hair, even on a mannequin. Every day we inched closer to the salon as we tallied our accrued theory hours. Each student was issued a green 11x17 piece of paper with a weekly grid. This ticket was a precious document that showed your life in school: theoretical hours earned, operations completed, hours clocked towards that shining 1600. It rode in the pocket of my smock every day for the next year.