At last, the dog days of summer are subsiding. Fall is on its way, bringing with it cooler temperatures and fresh new beginnings. Back-to-school reminders are everywhere - in malls, stores and even on television. For some, seeing those cute youngsters toting backpacks and waiting at school bus stops will remind them of happy times. For others? Those scenes may trigger memories of unending torture.

Whether Back-to-School makes you think of fresh notebooks, sharpened pencils and reuniting with friends, or arduous hours confined to boring congested classrooms depends a lot on your personal experiences and, not surprisingly, personality type.

If your school days weren’t your most enjoyable, you aren’t alone. If you were less than thrilled with your mandatory education, that says more about the system than it does about you! Traditional classroom situations aren’t especially children-friendly or conducive for learning.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • Did you ever feel like school was a place where you were forced to go to learn whether you wanted to or not?
  • Do you remember checking your watch every five minutes (and shaking it to make sure it was working)? Or staring up at the black and white clock on the wall? The hands never moved and you wished you could be anywhere else.
  • When the school bell finally rang, did you race to the next class or was that your signal that one dull subject was ending and another just beginning?
  • Was recess a reprieve from torment or further punishment? When all the kids rushed to play group activities, did you just want to be left alone or go somewhere and read?

Introvert or extraverts alike can find the traditional education system a sort of incarceration; kind of like a perpetual “time out.” For a dozen years students endure a barrage of new subjects and material, with little or no say in the process. As if all the “new” isn’t challenging enough, some subjects are even more difficult than others to absorb. Remember how some classmates raced through an essay test with pencils flying? Did you ever feel like you were the only one completely lost in Algebra and Geometry?

Is it any wonder so many of us said, “Let me out of here,” never to return? Those unpleasant elementary through high school experiences left many of us vaulting for the exits, and graduation (if we made it) couldn’t come soon enough.

Those memories kept many of us out of the classroom for good. Others toughed it out through post-secondary school, suffering four or more years of college. Graduation meant more of an end to a grueling endurance test than scholastic achievement. Some of you are still trudging through the process right now.

Whether you slogged through 10, 12, 16 or more years of schooling or are still smack-dab in the midst of it, there’s good news, which may come as a surprise: Education can be a pleasure – if you remember your ABCs!

A: Assess your personality type

It probably goes without saying, but to truly enjoy learning at any age you need to understand what makes you, YOU. Knowing your personality type will benefit you in virtually every aspect of your life – career, relationships, and romance – but it’s critical when it comes to learning. So, if you haven’t already done so, stop now and take a personality assessment and discover your four-letter personality type.

Your unique personality type has everything to do with how you process and manage information about yourself and the world around you. You’ll find out whether you recharge your personal energy batteries best by interacting with others or by yourself; whether you process new information best by sorting it through your own filters or by sharing with others and experiencing it firsthand.

Your personality type will also help to explain why you find certain subjects more enjoyable than others and why you find one particular form of learning easier  over another. For example, Thinkers and Judgers may prefer a detailed syllabus with clearly defined course objectives, tests, and study resources. Feelers and Perceivers, on the other hand, may respond better to more fluid arrangements that allow greater freedom, flexibility, interaction and alternative formats. If you know that you prefer facts and data in a structured environment, steer towards the kinds of curriculum that can offer you that type of experience and material.

Depending on your personality type, you might learn best by reading a book, hearing an instructor lecture on the subject or from participating in small group discussions on the material.

The good news is, there is no one “right” way or more effective approach to learning, but there are ways that will work better for you. Knowing your personality type can help point you to the kinds of situations where you’ll learn more comfortably.

B: Be open to finding what works for you

The most valuable teacher you’ve ever had is your own experiences. Spend some time thinking about the kinds of situations where you were most successful. Remember, crowded lecture halls stuffed with undergraduates aren’t the only venues for learning.

Do you find you do better in small group situations or in laboratory settings? How about a place where you get to work individually? Experiment.

Some of you will be most comfortable studying on your own – running the material through your own mind, thinking about it, and drawing your own conclusions. Go with that. Scout out the most private study carrels, like the library or a few quiet places in your home or office. Introverts will also want to allow ample time between classes and purposely schedule margins so you don’t over commit your time and energies.

Extraverts will want to buddy up with others to discuss and work through material. That’s fine. Look for populated places like student centers, arrange study groups or find on-line discussion sites. Create a tight, busy and varied schedule to maintain your energy and interest.

C: Create new memories

There's no doubt that your previous school experiences might have left you with a bad taste in your mouth. That’s why you need to create new ones. It’s easy to let one boring teacher or one negative class convince you that a particular subject is not for you. Sometimes we believe that we don’t enjoy a subject like math or English, when really, the issue was never the topic, but how it was presented to us. 

No matter what the subject is, you can find classes that present the subject matter in a way that is condusive to how you learn. You can take classes online, on campus, by browsing bookstores, purchasing videos and tapes, or by downloading textbooks to your electronic reader.

Perhaps algebra wasn’t fun for you because the instructor just read the book aloud, which prevented you from really working through the problems on your own. We’ve all had that one experience (hopefully) where a teacher made a subject come alive by virtue of their own enthusiasm and ability to relate the material to the real world. In the right hands, any topic can be interesting.

You might have hated cooking class in junior high, but you may find you adore gourmet seafood cooking classes as an adult because you get to decide when and where you go to class and who your teacher and classmates will be. You get to control your education now! You’re now in charge of the who, what, when, where and how of it all. 

Never stop learning 

Whether you are currently a full or part-time student or considering going back to school for the first time in ages, take heart. Just because studying was a drag in your youth doesn’t mean it has to be now. Find ways to work with your temperament and you may find old boring subjects surprisingly interesting.

A solo tour of a Presidential museum and library or a group walking tour through a historical district may awaken an interest you never knew you had. It’s amazing what you can find in online tutorials and videos, or even on the History channel. There are engaging experts that can make a seemingly dry topic immensely entertaining. You may find Shakespeare comes alive when you see a production on stage, compared to just poring over some small print on a page.

Keep at it. Who says you have to get a degree in two to six years? Who says you have to graduate at all?

Find out how pleasurable learning can be when you are doing it for the sheer enjoyment of it – not the “right” way, but your way. Chances are, you won’t be dreading “Back to School,” but loving it instead!

Ellen C. Lambert
Ellen Lambert studied at California State University Fullerton and the University of California Santa Barbara, earning an MA in interpersonal communication. A motivational speaker and writer focusing on health, well- being, and self-improvement, she is a card-carrying ENFP, and also serves as a BHQC, (bad habit quitting coach). She is committed to helping others free themselves from the habits that hold them back from living the lives they can enjoy. She lives with her ISTJ husband Charles and their INTP German Pincher, Rex Luther in Buffalo, Texas.