Originally posted on June 14, 2014
When I return to campus this August after a summer of writing and resting, I am scheduled to have several sections of freshman classes, more than I’ve had in a while. Whenever a new crop of students enters our school, it always fascinates my fellow teachers and me to see what is true about the group as a whole.
While one would expect a bit of excess energy that comes with the age group, we are very curious to see which ones are relatively serious about their studies and which ones are not so concerned about success. There is a perceived notion that at the junior high/middle school level there are not enough significant consequences for failing academically, leading some students to believe the first year of high school doesn’t really matter. If they fail a class here or there, it won’t be a big deal because when they have four years ahead of them, there is time to make a few mistakes along the way. The teachers and counselors will make sure they don't actually fail high school.
The problem with that kind of thinking is it’s only true in a very limited sense. Some schools have the option for remedial courses after school and in the summer, but if students begin to dig themselves too deep a hole it will be really difficult, if not impossible, to get out. While our most dedicated students are filling every period with strong, academic courses and taking summer school each year to get ahead, even the students in the middle of the pack know it is not smart to mess around when it comes to grades. In addition to being placed in a mandatory study period, spending hours during the summer or after school taking make-up classes is not the best use of their time. They might even need to transfer to a continuation or alternative school setting to make up the units just in order to earn a high school diploma. This is not a position they want to be in.
Also, let’s be honest here – some of the students who consistently fail classes are involved in less than ideal activities. Whether it is having a general lack of direction and tendency towards disrespectful or disruptive behavior or something more serious like substance abuse, students who don’t take school seriously can more easily be drawn into crowds unconcerned with their future well-being.
Let this, therefore, be a friendly warning to parents of students entering high school. Do whatever you can to make sure your student is prepared for success on day one of his or her high school experience. Make a connection with teachers in the first few weeks of class. Back to School Night is a great place for this to happen. Make sure they are taking classes best suited for them and doing the best they can in those classes. Include enjoyable electives where you can, but remember that focusing on the academic courses likely will help them in the long run. If you need an incentive to encourage their continued focus, let them know that if they work hard, there is the possibility of choosing a fun elective, teacher’s aide/office aide job or even an open period their junior or senior year.
In short, whatever you can do to keep them focus on doing well will do them well in high school and beyond.
I have been a public high school teacher in Southern California since 2005 and writing since junior high. I have an affinity for chocolate, photography, sarcasm and well-written TV shows that refuse to talk down to their audiences.