Senior Year Pep Talk #1 (of many surely to follow)

Time for a pep talk, everyone.

As with every other bit of class material I present you with, you ultimately have a choice: to ignore it, to skim through it, to read it looking for the right answers, or to read it to learn something new; to wipe it from your memory right after the test to make room for something else, or to let it sink in and think about how it connects to new material long after the unit is over. Also as with every other bit of class material I present you with, I do my best to make it accessible and relevant to each and every one of you so that it will be worth your time if you do choose to follow through with the level of work I expect from you.

I have mentioned to most of my seniors already that one of the best things they can do for themselves this year is to hone their study skills — an important one of which is reading independently and taking notes on the material. Some of you are lucky enough to be naturally good at this, and others have been formally taught how to do it effectively (s/o to those Cornell notes from middle school!). But how many of you DO it habitually and consistently?

Here’s a good way to put it in perspective: talk to your friends and siblings who started college over the past week or two. Ask them how much reading they’ve already been assigned — you will probably be shocked. Better yet, a few weeks from now check in with them again and ask how much of it the professor actually covered in class (probably not much) and how much of it ended up on the test (probably most of it). With their responses in mind, consider how important it is to work NOW on developing the focus and self-discipline necessary stay afloat in the future. Trust me, it won’t just magically appear after high school. Wherever you are, you can be better by the end of this year.

This brings me to a statement I hear frequently from my students, either directly during class discussions or indirectly in other situations: you feel that throughout high school you are collectively babied and thus not ready for college or the real world upon graduation. This evokes two very different responses in me as an adult who cares about you: first, I feel proud of you because the statement indicates that you realize the importance of independence and self-sufficiency in adult life. Aside from that, however, I feel frustrated by how this statement seems to be increasingly used as a crutch by some high school students who feel that just showing up is enough to pass a class.

How so? Well, it all comes back to the choice I mentioned earlier. We teachers provide you with hundreds of challenging assignments over the course of your high school career, but YOU choose what you do and don’t do with each of them. Do you complete the homework yourself, struggling through the tough parts, or do you copy someone else’s answers during study hall? Do you read the actual book actively and inquisitively, or do you skim through Spark Notes and assume it will be enough to make you sound like you know what you’re talking about in class? Do you participate in class discussions by asking questions, offering insights, and taking notes, or do you sit idly by, assuming that that other kid will always raise his or her hand?  It’s your choice, and there are logical outcomes of each.

Time to invoke a well-worn saying:  you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. A funny image, yes, but it applies perfectly to the situation I’m trying to help you understand. High school can’t GIVE or DENY you college and career skills; it can only present you with repeated challenges that help you DEVELOP them over time.  I assure you that this year you’ll be provided with ample opportunity to think, grow, and prepare yourself for the future  — but caution  you that if you don’t take us up on the opportunities you won’t get much out of them. It’s your choice.

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