Freshmen are all bodies and nervous excitement. They are hormones and awkwardness and giggles and curiosity. When they walk into high school, there is an energy and expectation in their eyes. They are first time marathon runners who have trained for this moment.
All through middle school, they have heard about high school. They have been warned about the higher expectations, been cautioned about work ethic and homework and grades that suddenly matter. They have been told that from the moment they walk through the doors, that colleges will be watching, and though it is impossible for them to look that far ahead into their futures, they know that this is all real now, in a way that school wasn’t before this. It is all meaningful; and this life that they have felt may never begin, is beginning. Finally.
They have left the embrace of elementary school, and made it through the mean corridors of middle schools. They are stretched and ready for the marathon of high school to begin. It is our job as teachers and parents to help our freshmen to hold onto this spirit and energy. It is our job to keep the ennui from setting in.
There is a tremendous amount of change in freshman year and a lot for both students and parents to get used to. As teachers, we tell parents at open house to ask a lot of questions and keep on top of their kids at the beginning of the year. Because really it is all about starting off with the right set of habits, establishing the right set of work ethics.
They need to begin the year with as much support as possible, so that slowly, as they progress, some of that support can be taken away. But, as with everything else in parenting, it is a balancing act. Most freshmen will not want their parents hovering; they feel they have earned their independence by this point, and it is our job as parents and teachers to allow them to prove that they are ready for this freedom.
Give them until progress reports time (or halfway through the first quarter) to show that they are on top of their game. Ask them questions about their classes and teachers, and monitor them for signs of change, but do not be overly concerned.
One of the things I love most about freshmen is that they try on so many different attitudes and personalities. There will be moments when you can see them as they were when they were younger, when they were wide-eyed and open. And there will be just as many (if not more) moments, when they surround themselves with darkness and shut the door against us.
It is our job to know when to walk away or when to force the lock. As a parent, this can be terrifying, watching the child you knew grow away from you, ever-changing like the weather.
Make their teachers your partners. Email them and ask what they see. I find myself calming parents more often than their teens as these times. And if there is something more serious going on, alerting the teacher provides you with another set of eyes. The more I know, the more vigilant I can be.
Freshman year is also a great time to join a club or activity in the school. At our school we have clubs that range from origami making, to movie making, to robot building and beyond. Often kids come up with their own clubs, find an advisor, and spread the word themselves. Clubs create a smaller community within the sometimes-daunting larger community that is high school. Clubs give kids a safety net, allow them to take a break from the sprint and reset their stride. They provide breathing space. They make it easier to jump back into the race the next day.
Most of all, freshman year is about endurance. It is about building the academic muscles, and the life-tackling muscles, that our kids need to get through the days, weeks and years that will become ever more stressful. It is our job to be on the sidelines, stepping in when necessary with encouragement and good cheer. Allowing them to stumble, and even fall, but making sure they get back up and keep moving forward. There will be sprints and slow walks throughout. All of us, parents, teachers, and kids, just need to remember to breathe through it all, ever cognizant of the next bend in the road.
Emily Genser is the mother of Abigail (5) and Josh (2 1/2) and a high school English teacher in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is passionate about both jobs and spends most of her time laughing. You can find her blogging away her few free moments of the day at Exhausted but Smiling.
Photo credit (runners): Steven Pisano