At least, for some people it is. (Remember those commercials?) Back-to-school season is a mixed bag of emotions- for students, parents and teachers alike. It also doesn’t help that coincides with the arrival of fall, which officially marks the end of summer fun.
I used to love back-to-school time, not only because I was a stationery nerd, but it always somehow felt like a fresh start. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in school now but the feeling has never really left me, this idea that fall can also be a season of change and opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m already starting to dread the end of summer (and I don’t even go to school, man). But let’s take this time to look at the positive side of going back-to-school and use it as a tool to meet your goals, break bad habits, or even boost yourself self-esteem. Maybe you just want to learn how to survive school. Here are some of the ways I think I can help:
Do you have any solutions or advice for students going back to school? Maybe you can offer the perspective of a parent or a teacher. Leave a comment below and share with the class, or email me at email@example.com. I may include your tips in a future post!
I was kind of an over-achiever in high school. Yearbook committee, school newspaper, concert choir, art club- I did it all while taking advanced English, and studying all of the languages my school had on offer (much to the chagrin of my guidance counselor). Oh, did I mention that half of my electives were in French? (Canada is bilingual, so English-speaking students required to study French until a certain grade and have the option of enrolling in an immersive language program.) My GPA was pretty high. And the worst part was, I wasn’t even trying.
Is this you?
See, I was just always kind of good at school. Making top of the class was easy for me so imagine the shock that I got when I went to university and realized that everyone there was at the top of their class, too. Suddenly, I didn’t seem so smart anymore. It really did a number on my self-esteem.
I don’t want this happening to you.
My problem was that I never learned how to study. I wasn’t sure how to organize my workflow, and I couldn’t identify any issues I had with the material until it was too late, and I’d end falling behind.
If this is your problem too, here’s my best piece of advice: your school probably offers workshops on a variety of things that help you do well in school. Take them all. Glean what you can. There is no one magic formula for studying that worksfor everyone, so try everything until you figure out a strategy that’s best for you.
I narrowed down some of what I learned until I had it crystallized into three rules for successful studying:
Study like it’s your job. Treat your school day like a 9-5 workday and find time in between classes to catch up on assignments, reading, or studying.
Assess the type of learner you are. Do you respond well to tactile things like flash cards, or copying something out? Do you need to draw a chart to connect ideas, or colour-code your notes for memorization? Maybe you do best when you explain a concept to someone else, or make up a song in order to remember terms for a test. Knowing how your brain works will help you select more useful and productive ways of studying instead of just trying to adopt a method just because someone says it’s the “right” way or the “best” way. There’s no such thing.
Assess your personality type. This can provide the framework for when, where and how often you study, as well as who you should choose as study partner. (Or maybe you don’t do well with them at all!) Are you easily distracted and find it hard to sit still? Study in short bursts. Are you a morning person? Wake up early to find time to review notes before class. Easily distracted? Then high thee to a library, and sequester yourself in a dark corner with your phone on airplane mode.
Also, there’s this thing known as actually hunkering down and doing it, which is probably the most obvious route to successful studying. You’d be surprised though at how many people let it fall by the wayside in favor of completing more immediate, pressing assignments or class readings. Do yourself a favor and don’t break study dates with yourself, or with your study buddies. Good intentions are great, but unfortunately they don’t usually help you pass an exam.
The other day I ran into a girl that I used to baby-sit while I was in high school. She’s a little older now so it was fun to catch up and see how she’s grown. I couldn’t believe when I heard she was finishing university this year, and her younger sister is just starting out at my old alumni. She asked me if I had any advice, so here it is. For those of you just starting out in post-secondary school, or for those of you looking to turn over a new leaf this year- I hope you find it useful. For the girls I used to look after- this one is for you.
Practice self-care. Exercise, sleep and eat healthy. These are the habits you’re most likely to let go of when you go to school so I encourage you to make them a priority. It’s not just about avoiding the Freshman 15- not taking care of your basic needs messes with your focus, your understanding and your mood. (I lost 15 lbs. instead because of all of the stress!)
Practice time management skills. Your success depends on well you can balance your classes, your job, your social life, your family, your home responsibilities, and any activities you engage in when you have free time. (By the way, if you don’t learn this quickly, you won’t have much free time.)
Practice discipline. It’s hard juggling all of those different hats you wear, especially if you’re without parental supervision for the first time. School can be fun, but you have to find a balance between work and play or you’ll find yourself suffering the consequences in your academic and/or personal life.
Practice organization. Your life will be a lot easier if you have everything you need, and you know where it all is. Be prepared. You won’t think I’m silly until the moment your pen dries up during an exam and you have to ask the proctor for one in front of 300 people.
Practice thrift. School is expensive and life can be to. It could mean a lot of trouble for you if you don’t learn how to manage your expenses quickly. This is also the time when many of you are starting to build a credit history, so it’s important to make paying bills – on time and in full – a priority.
Practice being open-minded. You’re going to meet a bunch of different people who come from different places and backgrounds and who do things, say things and think things that are different than what you’re used to. Please keep in mind that your way isn’t always the right way- it’s just all that you know because that’s where you come from. We all have things to learn from one another.
Practice kindness. When no one knows who you are or where you come from, all you have are your actions to represent yourself. Make your first impression a good one and the kindness will come back to you ten-fold during your time at school. I’m so grateful to all the friends I made that helped me through that time- they made me food when I was hungry, brought me coffees when I was tired, gave me pep talks when I was down and even loaned me a laptop when mine went on the fritz the night before a deadline. It really does pay to be nice!
Above all, I hope you keep things in perspective- school is not just about the credits, and the lectures, and the piece of paper at the end. It’s about expanding your horizons, challenging yourself and discovering your own talents and skill sets. It’s an exciting time and one I’ll certainly never forget. I wish you all the best of luck.
What’s your biggest takeaway from your time at school? Share it with the class below or let’s chat about it- you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re looking for more ways to juggle that whole work/school/life balance thing, click here to find more solutions that worked for me.
Am I a nerd for admitting that I kind of liked high school? At least, some parts I did. Mostly the academic parts. Not so much the emotional part. Looking back on those years, I remember them being something like this:
By the way, that is entirely accurate.
All teen angst aside, part of the reason I really liked school were the English classes. Smarty pants like me who performed well in their first year and maintained a certain grade point average had the opportunity to take an advanced English course with twice the amount of reading, and twice the amount of work.
And I was all like, where do I sign up?
Even though the following books were all required reading at some point time or another in my high school career, I’m not ashamed to say that they were some of the the things that I enjoyed the most during my time there.
Like, whoever was the genius who put Rule of the Bone (Russell Banks) on the course list should have gotten a raise. There wasn’t one kid in my class who didn’t rush out to read it. The characters were skipping classes, smoking spliffs, and having sex with highly inappropriate people- we were sixteen and we loved it. The whole class finished it, every single one of us.
Lord of the Flies, too, is the perfect example of a sinister book that works well in the classroom. William Golding’s classic novel sends a dark message in a time where students are prone to squaring off into social factions and in some ways I think it’s an appropriate and timely read.
Why none of John Wyndham’s novels haven’t been transformed into modern-day, big-budget sci-fi thrillers yet is beyond me. The Chrysalids is particularly creepy and perfect reading for a moody teenager. Although we were never required to read them for school, I would recommend Chocky and The Day of the Triffids as well.
Another popular (yet disturbing) read among my classmates was Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage, a dark re-telling of the Noah’s Ark story. It’s a fascinating read and one that opened the floor to a really interesting discussion, but it’s definitely not for the faint-of-heart. Newcomers to Findley’s work may want to try The Wars first for something a little less controversial.
Canadian authors like Findley always have a place on the reading lists of high school students. Some considered it a drag to be forced to read something simply because the author was born in the same country. I, on the other hand, was happy to discover that not only did Alice Munro and I share a birth country, we share the same birthday. Maybe I’m a little biased, but she’s one of my favorite Canadian authors and I have my high school English teacher to thank for that. Who Do You Think You Are? was the first collection of her stories that I read and it was the perfect read for a teenager trying to find her place in the world.
Lastly, a list that features books that I loved and read as an adolescent wouldn’t be complete without Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Before The Twilight Series, it has to have been the favorite read of moody teenage girls everywhere. Heathcliff is kind of a bad boy, and Cathy is all angsty on the moors, and there’s an impossible love triangle, and ghosts and lots of fog- who knew an English lit class could get so emo?
Certain books hold up to the test of time because they deal with themes that are no less relevant in the world we live in today than the historical contexts in which they were originally written. Even though we experience adolescence differently today, we strive for the same things as these characters and identify with their struggles.
In that sense I think reading can provide great comfort to teenagers who feel isolated and misunderstood. I know reading was a great outlet for me while growing up, and although some of these books may come across as a little old-fashioned or slow to the quick-talking, Snapchatting youth of today, I hope they still might find some value from one of the classics on their high school course lists.
After all, that’s why they call it “required reading”.
I love to read and I love sharing my favorite books with you. (For more reading inspiration click here or here.) Don’t forget to friend me on Goodreads either! Btw: These lists are totally my own creation and I was not paid or perked to share my opinions with you by any author or publishing company.