Tips for success this school year

We are on the verge of a new school year, like it or not. This will be my 28th term as an educator, and I would like to think I have learned a thing or two myself during those nearly three decades.

So, I thought I would pass along a few tips that might make the transition from summer freedom to fall subordination a bit easier for high school students and their parents.

First, if they haven’t already done so, teens should start setting their alarms to rise at a regular time, preferably before 8 a.m., the hour when the school day begins at Hills­boro Middle/High School.

Each young person’s weekday schedule varies during the semester; some roll out of bed at 7:45 a.m. and barely make it to class, while others need an hour or more to get themselves together.

Either strategy is fine, as long as it results in arrival before the opening bell. Tardies can add up quickly, and six is the magic number. After that, each results in a detention.

Second, I would suggest getting in the habit of completing homework in a timely and accurate manner. I tell my students every year that the surest way to fail a class, including mine, is to neglect to turn in assignments. Instructors cannot assess what they don’t possess. A zero is far worse than even a failing score. It takes a whole lot of great grades to make up for one really lousy one.

This may sound obvious, but I am convinced now more than ever that there is no substitute for actually being present in the classroom. Unless a student is puking or running a fever, he or she should make every effort to attend classes.

I know that my presence as a teacher makes a big difference for students as well. I have yet to see that online classes are anywhere nearly as effective as “live” instruction by a teacher who is physically in the room.

If I must be away, and I coach two sports and sponsor one activity so I am gone fairly often in the afternoons, I try to make the lesson valuable for students, despite my absences.

Another tip for parents and students concerns attitude and behavior. Some teens are accused of being “teachers’ pets” when they are judged by their peers to be always compliant. Troublemakers often complain that they are being picked on or that a teacher simply doesn’t like him or her.

While the latter may be true in some cases, we try to avoid the former. Even if a young man or woman always seems to rub me the wrong way, I try to look at the good in every person, though it sometimes might be hard to find. I want to respect all students, though a few fail to understand that it takes an effort from both parties.

Here is an undeniable truth: If a student is constantly causing a disruption and is always doing all he or she can to undermine what a teacher is trying to achieve, that student will often bear the brunt of the teacher’s wrath. That makes perfect sense.

Believe it or not, those who most often violate the rules, actually get away with more bad behaviors. When a teen who never causes trouble makes a mistake in judgment, he or she usually gets caught and suffers the consequences because the behavior is unexpected.

I also feel sorry for classes that seem to have a disproportionate number of troublemakers in them because the “good kids” suffer the consequences of the others’ misbehaviors. Unfortunately, life isn’t always fair.

I have often heard students say that a teacher “hates our class.” That statement bothers me, and I point out that it only appears that way; the more immature a group, the more the instructor is forced to act. That generally means being proactive and more restrictive, which students can interpret as a teacher’s disliking them.

This also applies to the dress code. Contrary to what some students and their parents may believe, I am not all that gung ho about rules. I do believe, however, if a rule is on the books, it is my responsibility as a professional to enforce that rule. If the rule is unreasonable, let’s work together to get rid of it or find an alternative.

I also believe the rules are clearly spelled out in the handbook, which is available online all day, every day. If a student comes to school wearing clothing that pushes the boundaries of appropriateness, why is he or she so surprised when a teacher calls him or her on that choice of attire?

In my experience, if all members of the faculty and staff were to enforce a rule with certainty, clarity and fairness from the beginning of the school year, students would quickly conform to those expectations. As teachers, we have not done a good job of this, however, so it might be somewhat understandable when young people are confused.

The handbook has been revised this year, so I would invite all students and parents to take a fresh look at the rules and regulations for HMHS and expect to conform to them.

Finally, let’s all take advantage of the anticipation we feel at the start of a new school year to make it the best one ever. The attitudes of parents, teachers, the administration and even the community can and will make a difference on the kind of educational experiences our young people can expect in 2016-17.

Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro Middle/High School. He can be reached at

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