School doesn’t get better as you go along, and it doesn’t reach its pinnacle your senior year.
Each fall, you had to start back at zero and hope it was one of the good years. Now that we're out of school, we know, and we can look back and determine with scientific accuracy which individual years of primary education are the best and the worst.
1. 11th Grade
Junior year boasts all the benefits of being an upper classman and none of the pressure. You get first dibs on picking classes and activities, and if you're a real baller, this is when those off-campus lunch privileges kick in. Seniors get all that, but juniors don’t have to worry if they’ve got enough credits to graduate or where they’re going to apply for college. Youth feels infinite. Junior year is literally the best.
It’s barely school, unless you consider playing with toys and having somebody read to you while you sit criss-cross-applesauce on the floor school. Beyond that, you only have to go for a half a day, which is crucial when you’re 5 and need to get back home to see your mom, dog, and toys, all of whom you miss terribly.
3. 1st Grade
You are finally the big boy or big girl your parents told you that you were in kindergarten. First grade is pretty much the same as kindergarten, except it’s a whole day, and instead of all the other kids being strangers, you know them and your crew is locked down. Together, you then get to hang out, read, have like four recesses, and make fun of the kids who can’t read yet.
4. 12th Grade
Yeeeeeeah, SENIORS RULE! Wear that letterman jacket all year long. Push those frosh into lockers. Act smug and distant like you know everything about how the world works. Enjoy your first serious relationship and your first car. Seriously, enjoy them, because you’ve also got to contend with SATs, applying for college, making sure you graduate and/or maintain your GPA, and the looming permanent ending of most of your friendships and that first serious relationship.
5. 8th Grade
Well, look who’s ruling the middle school or junior high or whatever you called it where you grew up. You're ruling it, that’s who. It's all about reaching the top, and also getting those braces off. And in the classroom, they finally let you learn 20th century history. (Spoiler: Hitler was a dick.)
6. 10th Grade
You're old enough to handle a couple of beers, but since you're 15, you can't yet drive home, meaning you can't drive home drunk. It's the last vestige of the innocence of youth before you mature into a high-school aged kid and have to start actually thinking about life. Furthermore, you can still eat whatever you want with no consequences, and you're probably doing a lot of making out. Good for you!
7. 3rd Grade
This is the last year that parents and teachers will consider you little, and so it's the last year you're praised for completing the most basic of tasks. Third-graders have to write a one-page report, and it's the most stressful thing you've faced to date. Movie Day is still a thrill. You can still want and ask for a hug from your teacher, and you may get one, and it's probably not weird yet.
8. 7th Grade
In the junior year of middle school, you're no longer fresh meat ripe to get pushed around, but you're not the big dog either. You're basically invisible, which in the hellish nightmare of middle school is a blessing. This is the last year you can get away with writing book reports on wide-ruled notebook paper, and the last year you can get away with a conclusion that's just a restatement of your opening paragraph.
9. 5th Grade
You notice the opposite sex for the first time and experience a powerful, terrible, aching crush, and if you're, for lack of a better word, lucky, the person you have that crush on will also have one on you and this will manifest by sitting next to each other on the bus and being the envy of all the other kids.
10. 4th Grade
You're in the the upper echelon of grade school now, and it's a bummer. One less recess, and you're expected to be a lot more mature and level-headed now that you're the big 0-9. This is also where they start aggressively splintering you academically into splinter cells of math groups and gifted programs, which is to say nothing of the cliques.
11. 2nd Grade
Every list has that entry that looms near the bottom because of its lack of impact and complete inconsequentiality. On lists of presidents, it's William Henry Harrison. Second grade is the William Henry Harrison of school years, because it's just kind of a filler year, a stopgap.
12. 9th Grade
The status and maturity you worked so hard to achieve by advancing to the 8th grade is gone, and you’re back to being the lowliest of the low, but in a way bigger place that’s teeming with older kids that look like adults, only they have more rage and hormones, both of which will make you a target. Simply get through the year's very minimal requirements of reading Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, and you'll be fine.
13. 6th Grade
It's your first year of middle school and apparently everyone else figured out how to act cool and where to stand, and none of them told you. Watch out for that random boner during a class presentation, guys. Worst than that, this is the year you have to read The Outsiders, a hilariously outdated novel your teacher will you is about "kids like you."