By Dan Geoffrey
As of this writing, finals were more than two weeks ago. It dawned on me the day after my last test that I was now entering the second semester of my Senior year, my last semester in high school. Seven months from now I will be starting my first term at Michigan State, leaving public school far behind and making my way into the adult world. It’s a bittersweet moment for sure, and it definitely leaves me with a lot of nostalgia. A lot has happened in these four years; nobody, me included, is exactly the same as they were when they first walked through these doors in September of 2009.
Is there anything I would have done differently? It’s possible. High school has dealt its share of victories and defeats, both inside and outside the classroom. I don’t think I’d ever take back any of the experiences I’ve had over the course of my high school career, but there are definitely a few lessons that I’ve learned along the way, things that I wish I had already known before I started. You will have a moment like this too one day, even now as you rejoice at having just slain the dragon that is the beginning of freshman year. The challenges you face won’t be the same as mine, nor of anybody else you know, but hopefully a few tips from an old pro will help make your high school experience that much more enjoyable.
#1 – Work smarter, not harder.
We’ve all been there before: It is 12:30 the night before that big test, you’re still poring over your textbook like a madman trying to absorb all of the information you can before tomorrow’s battle. Then all of a sudden the feeling comes – you can feel your eyelids drooping, your bed is just a couple steps away, oh how nice it would be to lay down under the covers and nod off…for…just…one…minute. But no! You jerk yourself awake! Gotta keep going, gotta pass that test tomorrow!
The next morning the test comes and you’re absolutely exhausted. You know all of the information, but your brain just won’t piece it together. An hour later time is up, you have a completed essay in front of you, but you don’t even remember what it was about anymore. You pick up your bag and shuffle out of the room, eyes dead as a zombie’s. How did this happen? You worked so hard last night!
That’s the problem. Students spend too much time cramming and not enough time actually learning. Slow and steady wins the race here, just like everything else. Slow, but constant absorption of information is the best way to get yourself ready for a test. Don’t try to cram hours of class lectures into one night’s mad dash; start as early as you can, building your knowledge up piece by piece. Your brain is like a computer. It can hold a lot of information, but not all at once. Develop a study plan geared towards slow but constant absorption of information and stick to it; you’ll be surprised at how much more it will help you than the usual cramming spree.
This doesn’t just apply to testing either! Developing a methodical, efficient method for completing class work, homework, and projects is a sure-fire way to keep your grades where you want them without expending any extra effort or stressing yourself out. At the end of the day, most teachers are looking for completed work that shows your knowledge of the subject material. Most of the time, there’s no real need to spend hours upon hours of your time putting extra details into your work. Remember always that school work is meant to increase your mastery of a subject, not the teacher’s. The best way to do your work is always to get it done in a way that benefits your own knowledge and secures a good grade first.
#2 – Accept failure, but never settle for it.
Almost everybody walks into high school hoping to make a splash. Some want good grades, others want to be the star of the team, and still others want to rock the music world in the band or orchestra. Ambition is a great thing! If you have a goal to drive you, you will find yourself getting much more out of the whole high school experience than you might otherwise. So go ahead and shoot for the stars, but remember one thing while you do: Nobody is meant to win at everything.
We’re told from practically the moment we’re born that we can be anything we want when we grow up. You can be an astronaut, a brain surgeon, even President of the United States, or so the saying goes. It’s an admirable idea but, unfortunately, it simply can’t be true. The same it goes for life in high school. Okay, so graduating with a 4.0 isn’t exactly as hard as becoming an astronaut, but it can still be a very tall order, and it’s one that only a few people will be able to fulfill. You might not be one of those people, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
When I was a freshman, I was a member of WLC’s band program, playing the saxophone. I was horrifyingly bad at it. Imagine the sound created by a very large elephant sitting on a very small bird and you will still have absolutely no idea how bad of a musician I was. In all of the saxophones that have passed through this school’s band, I don’t think there was ever one as bad at it as me, and it didn’t take me long to figure that out. When I did though, I was grateful. Not everybody can be a musician, it’s a special talent acquired with practice and dedication to the craft, something that I didn’t feel I was able to put forth effectively. After a less-than-successful year in the band I decided to focus on my other talents, much to my own benefit. In time I discovered exactly what I was good at, continued to hone my skills, and had a more enjoyable high school career because of it.
Added to this, one of the worst mistakes you can ever make in high school, and in the real world, is to feel entitled to success. You are entitled to work hard and try your best, reap the benefits of that hard work – whatever they may be – and then move on with your life. Nothing ever got done by complaining about how good you ‘should’ be doing, and especially by blaming others for your inability. Not everybody is suited to every role in life simply because they live and breathe. Nobody should walk into school with that kind of attitude, and they absolutely cannot expect to hold down a real job that way. Nobody likes a misplaced sense of confidence, least of all serious a serious future employer.
The moral of the story here is to work hard on the talents you do possess, and not to worry about the ones you don’t. Everybody strikes out at least once in life simply because it’s within human nature to do so. Accepting it and moving on is the quickest road to new successes.
#3 – Teachers have feelings too.
I get it, it can be hard to feel any compassion for that adult who sits at the front of the room every day barking orders and dishing out homework.
“They don’t know what it’s like to be a student!” You might say. “We have so much work to do and they only pile more and more on!”
You couldn’t be more wrong. You see, the fact of the matter is that every time a teacher gives you an assignment, they end up doing the same exact assignment many times over. When they make homework for you, they also make homework for themselves. Teachers are here to do a job, and most of the time it’s one that they do very well. They got into teaching because they enjoy working with children (okay, ‘young adults’ if you prefer) and they want to help you to succeed in the future. They aren’t here to torture; they are here to help. Teachers are people just like you, with interests, ideas, goals, and opinions all their own. They go home every evening, do their own work, go to bed, and do it all again the next day, just like you.
That in mind, you should try not just to understand and even sympathize with your teachers, but strive to maintain friendships with them as well. A good rule of thumb here is that people always take an interest in people who take an interest in them. Be polite, be active in class and diligent in your work, and you’ll be surprised at how many ‘cranky’ teachers take a liking to you. The most rewarding thing about making friends with your teachers, as with any adult, is their experience: Chances are they’ve been through everything you’re going through now if not more, and their experiences and pieces of advice can always be helpful. The best thing about this is that they’re actually willing to help as well, in fact in most cases it’s exactly what they took the job for. Nobody ever goes into teaching because they hate kids.
#4 – Don’t be afraid of anything, least of all yourself.
Let’s be honest here, high school can be nerve-wracking. It’s an entirely new experience in a lot of ways, and that can always be intimidating regardless of circumstances. The thing is though; it really doesn’t have to be. The biggest problem about diving into unexplored territory like high school is your own self-confidence. You could’ve been the top dog in middle school, now suddenly you’re back to being a little fish in a very big pond.
You have to keep some confidence in yourself in order to get through these four years. It’s easy to walk through the doors on that September morning and want nothing more than to turn around and go back. It’s even easier to keep feeling that way every day until graduation. The hard part is that you can’t go through life that way, not in high school, not anywhere else.
So be self-confident. Don’t be a jerk, but be self-confident. Have a good understanding of who you are, what your interest and goals are, and a good idea of what you want to do with your time in school. These are years that you will never get back, so use them for everything they’re worth. Don’t be afraid to try out for the team (but if things don’t work out, like I said before, it’s not the end of the world), or sign up for that club (even if it is a bit off-the-wall; it wouldn’t be a club if people other than you weren’t interested in it), or to strike up a conversation with that pretty girl (or handsome man) across the way, even if you don’t happen to look like a perfect ten that day. You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“But what about other people?” You might be thinking. “It’s okay if I’m self-confident, but what if other people still treat me badly?” That will happen, it’s just a part of life, but it’s still not something to be afraid of. Don’t expect to please everybody, and especially don’t devote your life to pleasing them either. Falling into that trap is just further evidence of a lack of self-confidence, a fear that somebody else’s opinion should dictate the way you live your life. At the end of the day as long as you’re happy with the person you are, who cares what somebody else thinks? The good thing about a big pond is that it’s very full of other little fish. Find people who do respect you for who you are, and you’ll never have to be afraid of living up to somebody’s standards ever again.
You’ll look back on your time in high school even after you’ve graduated. Do you want to look back and remember yourself as the one kid who was too afraid of himself, or even the people around him, to do anything? I hope the answer is no. When all is said and done, remember the good times you’ve had because you took the confidence and initiative to do so.
#5 – Be good for goodness sake!
I’ve saved the most important item on this list for last. It’s a simple reminder that most people have probably heard every day of their life, but for whatever reason it’s seldom remembered. Be a good person in everything you do. Treat yourself well, treat the things you are given well, and most importantly, treat other people well. Respect yourself, respect others. If you can remember that simple idea, your high school experience will improve ten-fold.
One of the biggest plagues on school life (and let’s face it, life in general) is bullying. There have always been people who try to assert their dominance over other people for no other reason but the fact that it makes them feel better about themselves. People like that won’t go away, but you can do your best to not become one of them. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be a decent human being; in fact I’d say it takes much more effort to be a bad one. Be a friend, lend a hand, and never say to anybody something that you would have a hard time saying to yourself. That’s where it starts.
It doesn’t just come down to bullying either. As always, honesty is the best policy. Be honest in everything you do, whether it’s your work habits or otherwise, and people’s respect for you will grow. Ultimately, people will hold others in high regard who also hold them in high regard. If you can treat everybody well, there’s no reason why a person shouldn’t treat you the same way. A good way to measure a person’s character is in the way they respond to your own kindness. If you treat somebody with decency and respect and they don’t reciprocate, or even worse, take that kindness and turn it back on you, then they really aren’t worth your time anyway.
These five simple truths will set you well on your way to a better high school career, and it’s for exactly that reason that I wish somebody had told me about them before I started. You will have plenty of your own tips and ideas to add to this list as time goes on, and maybe you too will find yourself writing to a whole new class of freshman about it.