The start of the school year is a roller coaster of emotions. There are new school supplies and old friends, new classes and the same old homework. But for most students, there is a moment sometime in the first month of school when they look at a clock to see how much time is left in class... and realize they have 9 more months of this. The roller coaster is suddenly the one that gets stuck for hours while everyone is upside down.
Summer is over.
How can you start your school year to make sure you survive, succeed, and avoid being miserable all year long?
You need a new schedule
When the school year ends, you suddenly have a lot of time to fill. In order to avoid facing the dread of Boredom (!!!), students scramble to find ways to fill their free time. Now I’m sure you did something productive, like reading Robert Caro’s series of books on President Lyndon Johnson (The Path to Power: 862 pages, Means of Ascent: 506 pages, Master of the Senate: 1167 pages, The Passage of Power: 736 pages). However, I hear rumors that a lot of students your age spent hours binging Netflix, scrolling and hitting refresh on their favorite app dozens of times an hour, or watching videos of other people playing Fortnite. It can’t possibly be true.
Either way, how you spend your time during the summer doesn’t work during the school year. The good news is you probably didn’t love all of the summer habits anyway. Pick the top few things you do that you really enjoy, and make time for them in your schedule. If you make Tuesday a homework day, that can open up Wednesday night for movie night.
Evaluate your classes
“Well last year I had this really bad teacher” might be the most common phrase we hear when students explain why they had a rough term. And they’re right, having a great teacher makes a huge difference! But sometimes you’ll have teachers that aren’t a good fit for you, or classes that you struggle with more than others. Don’t let that determine how your year goes.
As the year begins, pay close attention to which teachers have a style that doesn’t mesh well with you, and which classes you have trouble keeping up with. For those classes, you’ll have to do more work.
- Find other resources to help you out. Study with a friend who gets the material, ask an older sibling for help, research and watch helpful videos online, or ask your parents. Just because you don’t understand the material the way it was explained doesn’t mean you can’t learn it.
- Talk to your teacher. For most teachers, if they know you’re really making an effort they’ll do what they can to make sure you succeed. Even if they can’t find a solution right away, they’ll be more willing to make adjustments later on if they know you’ve been working and trying the whole term.
- Work on the material before it’s due so you can tell when you don’t understand it. That way you have time to study it or talk to the teacher before it’s due.
Choose what you want to get better at this year
Every year, you’re getting better at everything. But you can have even greater improvements in your skills or areas of focus. Think about what you want to get better at this year. What kind of skills do you wish to gain or sharpen? If there’s a thing adults keep saying like “take notes” or “study”, and you’re not sure exactly what steps they mean when they say that, here are the most helpful skills for students your age:
Copying is bad! Except… it’s really the best way we learn. Your teachers don’t expect you to invent all of Math yourself or go find evidence for all of History. So while copying answers on homework is a BIG no-no, copying the processes and wisdom of others is the best way to be effective and to find your own path. If you know you’re bad at something, find people who are strong there and try to copy their strategies. Friends, older siblings, and parents all have their own methods but by watching how they handle different tasks you can see what kinds of things work, and more importantly, which ones work for you. Borrow different techniques and then adjust them to fit your own skills and preferences.
You don’t have to figure everything out in advance for it to work. The most important step is often taking the first step. Before a test, a lot of students like to calculate exactly what score they need to get an A for the term. Before doing their homework, some students will do everything and anything from cleaning their room to reading the Wikipedia entry on homework. Whether you want to listen to Yoda (“Do or do not. There is no try”), Nike (“Just do it”) or the people who tell you the only proper way to get into a pool is by jumping in, the truth is the best way to make sure something gets done is by getting started. Planning and procrastination can look very similar. Write down what you need to do this year or today, think about it a little bit (less than 5 minutes), then just get started. If you run into trouble, know there are people you can turn to who are happy to help you keep going.