After reading Professor Offers Best Advice for College Freshmen, I decided to write my top ten list of advice for high school freshmen (and older kids getting ready to go back). I have taught high school for 15 years so just think of this list as some words of wisdom from a teacher who has seen it all.
These rules work. To boil it down even more succinctly, there are two things you need to remember: Build relationships from the very beginning, and be honest. Everything else will fall into place!
1. Know what is expected of you over the summer.
Many of your classes (not just English) now require summer reading, or some sort of summer work in preparation for the class. Coming into class unprepared on day one sends a clear message to the teacher.
However, if you haven’t done the work, cop to it right away. I would always rather a student come up to me on day one, and say I didn’t do the summer reading, what can I do so that I am prepared? This shows maturity and ambition. Both of which are necessary to do well in any class.
2. Work hard on the first assignment.
This is your chance to show your teacher what you can do, and what he/she can expect from you. Read thoroughly, write as well as you can, and participate fully in the activities of the first week.
It is hard to change someone’s impression of you, and you want the person grading your work to feel that you are trying from the very beginning. He or she will be more accepting of slip ups later in the year, if you have shown that you are willing to work in the beginning.
3. Participate. Participate. Participate.
This is the way your teacher will get to know you. Your teacher doesn’t care particularly that you are 100% correct in your answer, but that you are putting effort forth and paying attention to what has already been said. Remember that putting your hand up shouldn’t result in your ears shutting down. Listen to what your classmates are saying and respond appropriately: “I agree with Caitlyn, but think…” One of the most frustrating things for teachers and classmates, is when someone repeats a comment that has just been spoken.
Don’t speak just to speak, speak to add to the discussion.
4. Ask questions when you don’t understand something.
Generally, if you have a question, someone else has the same one. Probably many people have the same question, but are too shy to ask. If the question doesn’t get asked, it probably won’t get answered. Don’t be left wondering.
Ask the question. This is the only way I know what you understand, and what you don’t.
5. Be honest in all areas of your work.
I have forgiven many transgressions on the basis of honesty. No matter how close you think you are to your classmates, nine times out of ten they will throw you under the bus to save themselves. The truth will come out. Mistakes are made. We all make bad choices when under stress or overwhelmed. It is the way you deal with the choice and the consequence that tells me who you are.
If you cheat in my class, I will be upset. But if you are honest about it when caught, or (better yet) before being caught, I will more than likely either give you another assignment to make up for part of the grade, or help you to find a way to strengthen your grade after the fact. I want you to understand that what you did was wrong, but I don’t ever want you to fail because of it. No teacher wants that. Your honesty will help me help you.
6. If the class is a reach for you (an honors class, or A.P. class you wanted to try), be prepared to ask for help.
You can not grow on your own. Advocate for yourself. Help can come from any number of places, but should always start with the teacher. She knows that you are struggling, but wants to know that care about your own success. If you find that you don’t get the help you’re looking for from your teacher, find another resource. But always let your teacher know you are working hard. Mention that you purchased (or got from the library) an A.P. practice book. Tell her that you’ve been getting tutored by an older student or an adult.
If your teacher knows you are trying to grow, he or she will be more likely to help you achieve your goal.
7. If you don’t do an assignment, or had trouble with an assignment, or even if you were just overloaded and couldn’t get to an assignment, do not wait until class time to tell your teacher.
Seek him/her out before period 1, and, once again, be honest.
Your teacher knows how stressful each year can be, and may be more understanding than you think about the pressures of extracurriculars, and/or family stress.
8. Develop a relationship with at least three teachers by the middle of Junior year.
You will need at least two teachers to write a college recommendation, or to be a job reference, and you don’t want to put yourself in a precarious position when the time comes to ask.
Know who will be your best advocate, and talk to that teacher face to face. The worst thing that can happen is that the teacher says no. That’s why you want to have that third teacher in your back pocket.
9. Get to know your guidance counselor.
It’s easy to forget that each guidance counselor has hundreds of students for which he/she is responsible. Don’t wait until you are in crisis to seek her out. The better she knows you at your best, the better she can help you at your worst. Make appointments to check in, see that you’re on the right track, and ask questions about what is missing in your high school schedule.
They are experts in their areas, but it’s hard for them to guide you if they don’t know you.
10. Join something.
Find a club or an activity that suits you. At my high school kids have created robotics clubs, anime clubs, rugby clubs, movie clubs….any type of club that you can imagine. There is something for everyone. Not only will you find your “people” through this club, but you will find ways to stretch yourself, your creativity, and your intellect in completely new and different ways.
If you find a way to connect to the school community, you will be more likely to keep yourself on track for success in general.
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 lockers: SickestFame