With a new school year upon us, a range of emotions swells in the hearts of teachers and students everywhere. What will this year be like? What if…? Will everyone like me? How will I get by?
I’ve spent the past eight years teaching English and drama, mostly to high school freshmen. Ninth grade is a tough transitional year. Then again, so are the other three. It seems like once you figure out how to “make it” in high school, it’s time to graduate. So, here’s some advice on getting the most out of those four years from a high school teacher who remembers being a high school student, herself:
1. Be prepared.
Come to school on time, well-rested, and with something healthy in your stomach. Bring something to write with, something to write on (or your fully charged approved electronic learning device)and any other materials your teacher has requested. Don’t forget to bring a positive attitude.
2. Make a good first impression.
Dress for success. Your clothes reflect how seriously you take yourself and your environment. Be polite and pleasant when meeting your teachers. It goes a long way. (When I think about former students, I almost always recall the first time we met.) Always behave as though you are on camera. You never know who is watching – or filming.
3. Take notes.
Keep an organized notebook or binder. Write down everything important your teacher says, using shorthand as needed. Many students find it helpful to learn a structured note-taking format, such as the Cornell method. Taking notes also keeps you from getting bored or distracted. (Translation: time goes by much faster.)
4. Hold your questions, but remember to ask them when it’s time.
Wait until a teacher has finished giving directions or delivering material before asking questions. Write your questions down while you wait. The answers might be a few sentences away. But when the teacher says, “Are there any questions?” ask away. Wait until a quiet time of independent work to request permission to go to the restroom or nurse.
5. Do your homework.
Use an agenda book or an electronic program (like myhomeworkapp) to track assignments. Get started as soon as you get home. Read any assigned literature, even if there’s no worksheet involved. Study your notes from every class every night.
6. Get involved.
Find a sport, activity, or organization to be a part of. It will make high school a more meaningful experience and will help you make new friends. (I actually met my husband during our high school play.) Most schools offer something for everyone, but if not, consider starting a club. And remember: there are often college scholarships associated with extra-curricular activities.
7. Eat right.
You really are what you eat – and your school performance will reflect it. It’s easy to get sucked into the typical teenage junk food diet, but it will wear on your physical and mental health. Load up on fruits and vegetables instead of pizza and fries. Drink lots of water. Your body and brain will thank you. (So will your skin, hair, and overall appearance.)
8. Be honest.
When you fail to tell the truth, people begin to doubt your integrity and lose respect for you. Your teachers are no exception. We’ve heard every excuse you could possibly imagine. But, all we want to hear is the truth. We understand that our students are human. If you are late because you were socializing with friends in the hall or forgot your homework, admit your mistake without providing a backstory. Accept the consequences, and don’t let it happen again. (Do provide documentation to account for any excused absences or latenesses due to illness, doctors’ appointments, etc.)
9. Choose your friends wisely.
Whether it’s intentional or not, we tend to assume the habits and attitudes of the people around us. Surround yourself with positive, motivated people who respect you for who you really are. Steer clear of people are overwhelmingly negative, have no dreams or goals, or want to change you. Avoid at all costs those who are involved in bullying, drugs, crimes, and other nefarious activities. You will be judged by your circle of friends, so place yourself among people whose reputations will bring you pride, not shame.
Your teenage years will be loaded with uncertainty, but know that you are never alone. When your world feels like it’s falling apart, all you need to do is pray. Ask for wisdom when a daunting test looms before you. Ask for peace after a fight with a parent or a friend. Ask for the courage to approach that girl or guy you like. Ask for the strength to say “no,” and for forgiveness when you wrongfully said, “yes.” And when you get what you’ve been hoping for, don’t forget to say, “thanks.”