What to Expect When You’re Expecting School to Start
By Stephen Swanson
Hey! Psst! Worried about the coming school year? I want to tell you a secret.
Teachers have as much anxiety about the start of the school year as students do. As the weeks and days count off until Fall, we find it harder to sleep as plans run over and over in our minds.
Also, most teachers REALLY want our students to succeed. We look out at each and every student from the littlest pre-k-er to the most mature of non-traditional student in their college classroom and want the very best for you.
Why would THAT make us worry? I’m glad you’ve asked.
Teachers hope to make differences in your lives. However, as much control as teachers seem to have, the vast majority of success in learning boils down to you, the student.
That’s right! The best teachers in the world do not necessarily make differences in every student’s life, and teachers who work the hardest still cannot always provide experiences that fit every student. However, EVERY student can and should take these three major steps to success!:
Think about Priorities and Time
If we could devote all of our time and energy to all aspects of our lives, we’d really have it made. We’d grow into everything we want to become and please everyone who has goals for us. However, trying to do everything usually trips us up. More successful learners identify limits and organize their schedules to match their goals.
In school, time grows more and more scarce. You will probably only have time for school and maybe one or two other priorities. If family matters most to you, then prioritize time with your loved ones.. Want to improve career options? You should learn about those jobs and improve the specific skills needed. Do you value or need work or extracurriculars? Excellent! Do them, and do them well. You can accomplish almost ANYTHING, but you can’t do EVERYTHING. Chose those few priorities wisely. Save the rest of your interests for another time in your life, when you have finished your schooling.
Start managing your time by making a list of EVERYTHING you do and the number of hours you spend on it per week. Don’t forget sleep, eating, chores, taking care of yourself and others, or anything else. Then, subtract those hours from the 168 total hours in a week. How much time do you REALLY have? How much can you take on and perform at your best? We need stress to grow and achieve goals, but too much stress over weeks wears us down physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
Once you identify your main priorities and the amount of time you have, you need to pick learning opportunities that push you. Many students claim they want challenge, but in their hearts they believe, like Lisa Simpson, “Duh! [I want] A challenge I can do!” Based on this philosophy, they seek out easier classes, teachers who focus on fun, or subjects they already know about. This can feel rewarding to students in the short-term. However, in school you should be preparing yourself for an increasingly uncertain future. With that in mind, you need to develop skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will help you face new challenges.
Educational and psychological experts call these skills “emotional intelligence,” “soft skills,” “grit,” “persistence,” and, “virtue.” Whatever the name, the traits they describe remain remarkably consistent. Students need to engage with new information, connect it to their experiences, and then apply it in new situations they encounter. Sure, we need to think about majors and careers, but careers change more and more quickly. The software you learn in that class will vary from company to company. The policies and procedures will evolve. Jobs will shift and change. You need to know how to change with them. Students need to learn to overcome frustration, confusion, and other roadblocks along the way to accomplishing their important goals.
The good news is that research shows that when we believe we can learn and improve, we make a huge difference in our abilities to learn and improve. Seek out the experiences that challenge and push you to grow into your best self. Don’t accept anything less than experiences that demand the best of you.
Build a Support System
At some point, almost every student feels sad and dejected. Balancing school and work and all the other parts of your life seems impossible! You experience the reality that quality learning takes time and effort. You don’t have much time. You’re really tired. You’re not sure if you can do it or if it’s worth it. It seems like learning comes SO much easier for EVERYONE else. These feelings are not only completely normal but usually show that you actually have begun learning.
Furthermore, I have more good news. You do not need to try to do this alone. At every level of learning, people can help guide and assist you. Seek out and contact those people early and maintain contact.
Start with teachers and counselors. Introduce yourself to them. Share your specific goals and relevant priorities. You don’t need to give everyone your life story, but people can help more when they understand your goals and experiences. Look for potential obstacles and talk about how to work through these challenges and achieve your goals. Ask them for help locating resources for particular gateways that you might need to pass through, and don’t give up if you run into a roadblock or two.
Try to accept some frustration in the process. It can sometimes take a while to find that person to help, but they exist out there. Once you find them, they can help mentor and guide you through a pathway to success.
Education…the kind of education that changes lives…takes effort and struggle. It takes time. As more and more jobs require higher education, and more and more people get degrees and certifications, we need to set priorities, select our challenges, and form a community of people invested in our success. It’s hard. It should be hard, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible or that you have to do it alone.
Dr. Stephen Swanson has only been in Waco since 2009 to teach English and mass communication at McLennan Community College, but also loves playing board games with his family and friends. He can be found at many points around town, wherever people work to make a better Wacotown.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.
Photo Credit: “Aqua Negra School Group Portrait”, 1912, Lawrence T. Jones III Texas Photography Collection