CaNdAcE asks: Do you have any school tips for teenagers?
Hi CaNdAcE –
School? Me?! I only had one school experience, which involved working very hard to stay focused on sitting and heeling when I was much more interested in the smells of the other eight dogs in the room. The main tip I remember from that school was to keep reminding myself that Handsome had a bag of treats in his pocket, and so was way more worthy of my attention than those pooches.
But is there anything I can offer to teenagers? People who’ve already been in school five years or more? Not much – except that maybe teens can have some of the same lesson I had with Handsome’s treat bag – that focus is the key.
When children first go to school, they’re kind of in the same place I was, where this is a new environment, kind of scary, kind of thrilling, with all sorts of new kids my age who might become my new best friend or might want to bite me. Then within a year or two, they get used to it. And they get better able to focus on the subjects being taught them.
But then when they become teenagers, changes start. Their bodies are changing, they’re more tired a lot of the time, and more hungry a lot of the time, and they start spending a LOT more time thinking about how attractive other people are, and worrying about their own status. This is normal and inescapable.
There’s also another factor, which recent brain-scan work has proven (though to observant mutts like me it’s been obvious for centuries!). By the time a person is 14 or so, their brains have fully developed – with one exception. There is one part of their brain that is still forming, and won’t be finished developing till they’re around 18 or a bit older. Can you guess what it is?
It’s Time. Their sense of Time. Humans have a great awareness of time – past, present, future – more than any other animal. But when you’re a teenage human, your sense is that what’s happening now is the way it’s always going to be; there is no past, no future, just this. (Of course, teens can intellectually understand the past and future – I’m not saying History class is a waste! But their sense is only of the present). This is why Shakespeare had Romeo and Juliet be teenagers. They felt they just had to be together right away, or their lives were pointless. If they were 19 or 20, they’d be able to say “Hey, let’s keep this crazy love on the QT for the time being, but once I get a job and you can move out, we’ll just hook up then and it’ll all be cool.” And what a boring play that would have been!
This is also why we see horrible things in the news where kids commit crimes to others or themselves because of something written on Facebook – they feel like that insult and shaming will last forever, not aware that it’ll be forgotten in a couple of weeks.
So, back to your question, here are the school tips I’d offer teenagers, which are all about focus, directly:
1) Your sense of time and planning stinks. When you get an assignment that’s due in three months, don’t even pretend you can do it gradually. Cut it into defined parts, and make deadlines for them. Otherwise, I promise, you’ll be rushing to do it all the night before it’s due.
2) When you’re assigned to read a novel, read ahead. If you fall one assignment behind, some jerk in your class (often the teacher) will tell a plot event before you’ve gotten to it. If there’s any way to read the whole thing before it gets any discussion in class, that’s the best. Enjoy the book on its own merits. THEN let your class and teacher tell you what’s “important” about it.
3) Ask Questions! So many teens are embarrassed to speak up in class or draw any attention to themselves. But teachers really like students who get involved, and other shy students will appreciate that you made the teacher clarify something that probably no student understood!
4) You are practically guaranteed to have some really bad teachers, and some okay ones. If you’re really lucky, you might get one or two great ones. Those can change your life, so take all you can get from them. But with the bad and okay ones, just figure out what exactly they want in your work, and do your best to give that to them. Even that might be a learning experience. Handsome once had a History teacher who told his students they’d do best in his class if they didn’t think! That’s not the way Handsome would teach that class, but he learned some good lessons about not overcomplicating issues from that guy!
5) Okay, meanest tip of all – when you’re in class, and when you’re doing homework that requires concentration – turn off the cell phone. Don’t just put it down, turn it Off. You will have way more time to interact with your friends if you are able to really focus on your work and get it done, than if you’re interrupted every couple of minutes by a text.
If you don’t follow these tips, your teenage school years will be a mess of confusion, fear, excitement, hurt, zits, uncomfortable attractions, weird pains, embarrassment, and mediocre pop songs you’ll irrationally love forever.
If you DO follow these tips, your teen years will be exactly the same, but you’ll do better in school!
Good Luck! By the way, Handsome tells me I’d do better at catching squirrels if I understood the Pythagorean Theorem. If you learn it, could you please explain it to me?!