A new school year is here, and although many high school students will be returning for another year, some students will just be entering high school. Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, many people will tell you that your high school experience will help determine your future, so being prepared for what lies ahead is important.
To help you navigate those important high school years, here are five tips to put you on a path to success.
1) Embrace who you are, and learn from experience.
High school is as much about the messy social experience as it is the classroom content you are expected to master. Like many students, you have probably started your time in each new school with a bunch of jittery promises that you’ll leave behind that regrettable version of yourself who attended your last school. But instead of running from the past, how about trying something different? Embrace the experiences that have helped shape you into the person you are today. You are not who you were in the past, nor are you the person that you will ultimately become. But don’t forget the past. Learn from it. Did you end up in a circle of friends who weren’t really your friends? Learn from that, and share those moments with the new people you will meet. Were you always at odds with your teacher for one reason or another? Think back to why, and share those experiences and lessons learned with your new teachers about how you can best be counseled.
2) Build honest relationships with your teachers and classmates.
It might be hard to see that your teachers are human, that they do make mistakes, and that sometimes they are on the verge of losing control of the oversized collection of personalities that make up the classroom. But the truth is that teachers need your help for a healthy classroom. The best way to help your teacher is to be upfront and honest. What are the conditions or behaviors that distract you from learning? What are some of the triggers – words or actions – that have made you upset or angry in the past? The earlier that you can share these with your peers and teachers, the better. Getting teachers to understand your priorities or obligations beyond homework assignments (such as home or family) helps teachers design ways to best support your learning goals. We all live unique lives, and each student’s needs are different. A healthy, honest relationship with your teachers can open the door to more second-chance opportunities to put forth your best effort. But remember that the mirror image of honesty is accountability. Be accountable with your word.
3) Ask questions, and explore your interests.
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass shared this deeply important truth: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” In a classroom, it’s often thought that teachers expect students to parrot back whatever they say to achieve success. Some subjects require that. But one of the byproducts of building an honest relationship with your teachers is establishing space for contributing your questions, curiosities, and interests. You will have to make space in the classroom to ask questions about concepts that you don’t understand, fuzzy histories, and sometimes flat-out lies (think of the historically silenced contributions of Indigenous and African peoples). The classroom must be spacious enough to include all parts of you, so bring all your gifts. Ask questions about where you can go with open-ended assignments. Make it connect to your personal history and future visions. Pull it all out of your teachers. But you should expect them to pull it all out of you, too.
4) Build networks, and engage community wealth.
They say that experience is the best teacher. A number of high school programs in Philadelphia connect what students are learning in the classroom with institutions and organizations that are using these concepts to make an impact. Beyond these formal relationships, there are community-driven extracurricular and out-of-school activities in which you can participate to turn your passions and interests into career-ready experiences. Using resources that are available through community relationships can add to a career-oriented canvas you will paint through your high school experience. Make sure your peers, teachers, and administrators are aware of your dreams. These people are interested and are charged with seeing you achieve them. Doors that don’t exist can be built, adding to the school’s richness and your legacy.
5) Plan to work, and work the plan.
Sister Corita Kent, an artist, activist, and educator who was most known in the 1960s and ’70s, famously wrote: “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.” This is true. You must set aside time to work. You must become deeply enamored with practice. Yes, I am talking about practice. We are solely what we practice. Yet, for you to personally understand and be motivated to work, you must also know why you are working. No teacher can impose this on you. Why do you come to school? Some aim high and understand the power of education as a tool to overturn oppressive systems. Other reach equally high and understand that school presents an avenue to learn necessary skills to provide for themselves and their loved ones. Do the work. Care about it. Know your why. It will carry you through the boredom and/or the tough times.
Christopher Rogers is a local educator, a core member of Teacher Action Group Philadelphia, and a recent transplant to North Philadelphia, originally from Chester, Delaware County.