1. Walking in the doors of a classroom with preconceived notions about how a class will be severely impacts the way you perform.
People talk. Sometimes their reviews on certain teachers are not glowing, nor particularly polite. But when you walk into a classroom already hating the teacher or believing in their incompetence, you’re not doing yourself any favors. In fact, you’re probably making things worse for yourself.
Just because a schedule says “STAFF” instead of an actual name doesn’t mean that the school hasn’t found a teacher yet. It only means that they haven’t gotten around to changing the label over. Maybe you’ll actually end up liking the teacher whom everyone calls a flake and a drunkard. You never know.
The teacher and you are in the same boat. You both have no idea how the class will go. The teacher has no idea how much of a snooty, elitist slacker you are nor how much of a perfect, angelic miracle you are. You know nothing of the teacher’s credentials, and making a big deal out of the fact that he went to community college before getting his teaching degree only demonstrates how close-minded you are, not how much of a shit teacher he is.
Unless they’ve been particularly offensive and/or incompetent, your teachers are trying as hard as they can to teach you a curriculum they may not even fully understand themselves while teaching you something worth actually understanding.
And trust me, juniors, your new English teacher is one of the most talented people I have met. She makes an excellent replacement for P while she’s away.
2. People start to develop personalities sometimes around high school, and, boy, does it change things.
Friend group in middle school will not be the same group in high school. People will leave, people will join. They’ll stay roughly the same, but some people let high school go to their heads. All of a sudden, everything is a competition and everything gets nasty. Or people develop superiority complexes that “let” them make assumptions about everyone else around them.
That’s shitty behavior. High school is a time where your friend group should grow and you should enjoy meeting new people, since your pool of potential friends pretty much just expanded to twice its size.
It’s also important to make time to hang out with your friends. This is one thing I regret not doing more of. Relationships of all kinds take a lot of work, and friendships are no different. But if your friends are toxic, get away from them as fast as possible. It’s not about making as many friends as possible–it’s about making the best friends possible. When someone asks you who your best friend is, you should be able to list off a whole bunch of people because these are the people you’ll carry with you forever.
That being said, if you hate someone, hate them with a fiery passion.
3. Fuck goals. Do the things that you like and do the things that you wouldn’t normally do.
Let’s be honest. You’re probably not getting into Harvard, even if you’re valedictorian with outstanding extracurriculars. So if that’s not happening, and if you have no idea what you want to do in the future, why limit yourself? Being so focused on a nebulous future career you don’t even know you want will destroy you mind, body, and soul. Don’t be afraid to do that thing you love. One day, go on a spontaneous day trip to Portland. It’ll give you personality and stories to talk about. Even though people start developing personalities in high school, four years really isn’t enough time to even think about how interesting your life has become. No one gives a damn about how cool you felt winning the national championship in chess. No one wants to hear about how your favorite author changed your life. People want to hear about the time you took control of your life and told everyone to stand back and watch as you rocked it out on stage with your garage band.
4. Get to know your teachers well enough to personalize their gifts.
One reason why is because it really means a lot to a teacher when they receive something that’s not a generic card or box of chocolates. It shows that you’re really paying attention and that you’ve taken the effort to learn something, if not the subject matter.
The second reason is that it comes in handy when that time of the year rolls around and everyone starts asking around for recommendation letters. Your teacher is going to remember you as that one kid who did something actually thoughtful, not just run-of-the-mill. It’s not only a good strategy in high school, but also an important life skill.
You teachers are not just your superiors in the hierarchy of high school, but also willing to be your friend as much as the constraints of the hierarchy allow. Gift-giving is just one way to transcend this hierarchy and to really thank the teacher for what she’s done for you this entire year, especially if you’ve been nothing but a condescending little slacker for the entire school year.
Once I gave a teacher a mix tape because I knew the kind of music he liked (indie alt). He told me straight up that it was one of the coolest gifts he’d ever received. Then he moved to Spain, but that’s a story for another time.
5. If you don’t know your teachers well enough to personalize their gifts, get them a tissue box.
No one I know understands why there are never any tissues around come flu season. No one has made the connection, at the very least, between the absence of school tissues and why teachers are often so willing to gift extra credit to the students who bring tissue boxes to school.
So here’s the connection: the school does not provide tissues to teachers. Every tissue box that shows up is money out of the teacher’s own pocket. Reasons being: I have no fucking idea. It’s cruel. But there’s a way you can turn this to your advantage.
Tissue boxes are considered a precious commodity in high school. Gift them, and you become God. Or, at least, a favored one. No teacher in their right mind will deny you the luxury of gifting a tissue box. They all secretly wish it would happen. After all, it’s not a trite Hallmark card, a rarely used #1 Teacher coffee mug, or a box of inedible ethnic snacks. They’re cheap when bought in bulk, and infinitely useful come flu season (read: winter) and allergy season (read: fall and spring).
Later in high school, when you need recommendation letters, every single goddamn teacher you’d ever had will remember you as that one kid who was thoughtful enough to bring tissues as a non-denominational winter holiday gift. They’ll write you nothing but praise and love and will definitely say yes if you ever ask them to go on a casual coffee date with you just to catch up on the latest stuff.
6. It doesn’t matter who you are, going to class is important because you’re always learning something useful. Be a go-getter instead of a try-hard because 364/365 that valedictorian spot is not yours.
I’m not going to deny that I’ve never skipped class. Of course I’ve skipped class! When my procrastination got the better of me, I skipped like crazy trying to meet deadlines. In the end, I passed, of course, but I could have done significantly better if I hadn’t been such a slacker.
I don’t have any regrets, though. Because I learned quite a lot from my experiences being a professional slacker in a non-professional classroom.
And that’s what I mean. It doesn’t matter where you are, who you are, you’re always learning. It’s unlikely that you’re ranked number one in your class because there are tons of people way smarter than you, who work harder than you. It’s not disparaging and discouraging, it’s just the truth. So differentiate yourself by being forward about your learning. 90% of what you learn in high school isn’t going to happen in the literal classroom. 90% of what you learn in a high school classroom will never be applied in real life unless you’re a biographical historian or a quantum mathematician. But that 90% and 10% make up the 100% of what you will end up using in real life and the majority of that just happens to be important pro-tips by teachers who’ve already been there.
If you take the time to go to class, you’ll learn that your teachers are actually human beings. They’re not scary overlords or incompetent fools who came back to high school to either terrorize small children or because they couldn’t get a real job. They became teachers for a reason, whether it’s because they wanted to pass on important knowledge to future generations of scholars or because they were willing to take a pay cut in order to be there for their special-needs child.
They have experiences that they want to share, and you have experiences that you want to make. So yes, skip class if you absolutely have to, but just remember that practical knowledge comes from the teacher, not the classroom. With the exception of health. Because health, if the curriculum is good, is all about practical knowledge.
7. High school gives you so many second chances. It’s that magical four years of life where you can fall off the wagon and still get back on.
Don’t squander your chances. Quit getting high in the bathrooms when you could be learning how to derive a sine curve. You can fail, and fail, and fail again, and teachers would still let you try again. But why should you take advantage of this system?
The problem with this system is that it teaches you how to fail. That it’s infinitely okay for you to accidentally sever the left ventricle because there’s another goat heart in the freezer or add a little more calcium nitrate than necessary because there’s always a margin of error (granted, that is part of the scientific method).
But that’s not true with life. High school is a fantasy. Sure, the people you meet in high school are exactly like the people you meet in the workplace, and sure, the same clique-y-ness of it all gets tiring. But in high school, you’re given the opportunity to reinvent yourself for free, over and over again.
And that’s why we shouldn’t get used to this way of life. It tells us that we can afford to be lazy, when in reality, we can’t. And that’s the lesson that high school teaches: unless you’re self-motivated enough to fight the ennui, no one’s going to tell you to shape up and go faster. It’s wholly up to yourself to say that you have a goal and you’re going to get there. Even if you’re not sure what you’re going to do in the future, it’s important to give your all in the now and throw yourself passionately into something you enjoy. Work towards that nebulous ideal because it’s all you know, but get experiences along the way that are uniquely for yourself.
So don’t take the option of failing first and passing second. Pass first and surpass second so that when you need to use those second chances, it’s there for the taking.
8. For the love of God, pay attention in Health class. Or, at the very least, learn your drugs and your sex ed.
Just from a practical sense, a good education is an essential foundation for making good decisions. At the very least, everyone should know how a condom works and how Plan B and birth control works. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and health class is at least one relatively neutral zone that is also informative. Unless your friends have expressed a serious interest in sexology and has moved on from PornHub as his main source of information, you shouldn’t trust a word he says.
Similarly, drugs. It’s not hard to score in a high school. You only need to find the right bathrooms and have the right amount of exchange currency. Have a general sense of what the effects are: hallucinogenic, depressant, barbiturate, stimulant, narcotic, etc. And understand that everyone has a different reaction to every kind of drug. Cocktails are bad, sugar and salt will both worsen the after-effects, and know your own limits. Chemistry is also a great place to learn about drugs.
9. Time management is much, much, much harder than everyone plays it out to be.
For one thing, time management is a vague term for the set of habits that you’ve cultivated over the years that allow you to get all of your stuff done on time.
For another, I get anxiety when I’m faced with free time because I don’t know what to do with it. It’s especially weird in senior year because I don’t have too many classes and I’m unable to sleep in. Consequently, so much free time.
To manage your time truly well, you’ll have to have patience and dedication, neither of which I had throughout high school since I tried coasting through. Well, that’s not strictly true. I just didn’t dedicate myself as much as I could have. I don’t have very much to say on the subject, other than to say that procrastination is like a drug–easy to get into; a slow, slippery slope; and ridiculously hard to get out of. Don’t fall in, never have to climb out.
10. Enjoy yourself. Be open to new things.
High school isn’t the end of the world. Regardless of what people say, there are plenty of options besides the traditional route. I didn’t do it. Some of my friends didn’t do it. A lot of them turned out just fine. High school might not be stress-free, but it definitely isn’t fun free. There are a lot of choices, a lot of resources. You can do almost anything you want. Go to a football game and get wasted. Go to Homecoming alone. Take goofy pictures of yourself with friends on a spontaneous trip to the beach. Change styles every other week. Designate a day of the week to be pancake day and eat nothing but pancakes.