How to succeed at school

You know what they say about first
impressions, right? You only have one chance to make one. And this is
completely unfair.

But you also know what they say
about life. It’s unfair. And that seems just awful if what you focus on is how
you will be walloped by the chapped, uncaring hands of fate.

There’s a flip side to this
injustice, though: It can work in your favour.

All you need to know is how to
communicate well — both in what you say and with what you do. It sounds simple
— but of course, it isn’t always so easy.

And the people who have the hardest
time here are students going back to school.

Many adults love being hard on
students.

Kids today know a ton — it’s just
different stuff from what their parents and grandparents know. Kids are
generally much smarter about using technology. Ask any parent and you’ll
probably hear, “Yeah, my kid knows way more about computers than I do.”

In today’s world, understanding
technology is a lot more important than being able to recite where the world’s
highest waterfall is (although that sort of knowledge and quality time with
Alex Trebek can help make you famous).

So, if kids are so smart, then why
is going back to school so hard? It’s because there are two groups kids need to
impress: their teachers and their peers.

Quite often, what makes a good
first impression with one group doesn’t go over so well with the other. For
example, while a student would look at a midriff-baring T-shirt and think,
“She’s got a nice innie,” a teacher will look at it and think, “She’s got a lot
of nerve showing up to my class half-naked.”

It goes beyond clothes, of course —
there’s what you say and how you say it. And since you have about 10 seconds to
make your opening statement to your teachers, you might as well do it right.
After all, most teachers have already seen the extreme statements before.

So what’s a student to do? Easy.
Follow these tips on how to dress, how to talk, and how to win the teacher
over.

Dress like you mean business

Specifically, don’t dress to
impress your friends. You don’t need to. They’re worried enough about impressing
you. How can you tell if you’re falling prey to this trap? Look at your
clothes.

Here’s a little story about clothes
that send the “I’m a dope” message. Just last week, on an 80-degree day, a
teenager was with his girlfriend. She was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Looked
perfectly fine. He, on the other hand, was wearing a wool ski cap pulled down
to his eyebrows. He was also wearing pants so low-slung he couldn’t walk without
holding them up with his thumbs.

The key here: The kid’s fashion
statement was getting in the way of comfort and mobility. This is the sort of
thing that cracks adults up — and not in the way you want.

Be a kid, but talk like a teacher

Boys aren’t the only ones to do
goofy things. Many girls — and lots of women, too — make an unfortunate habit
of ending sentences with a question mark. Even when they’re not asking a
question. It sounds like this:

“So I was at the bookstore? And
this guy? He came up to me? And I was like….” Ugh.

Even Terry Gross, the noted
interviewer on National Public Radio, does this. To many people it makes girls
sound like wimps.

According to Deborah Tannen, a
Georgetown University linguist and author of You Just Don’t Understand, a book
about how men and women converse differently, young women often end sentences
with question marks because other young women do it — and they want to sound
like their peers. The underlying logic of the practice, Ms Tannen said, is to
encourage a response. Even if it looks like insecurity (or wimpiness), that’s
not the intention.

And that’s the point: Don’t let
your clothes or your speech patterns say something you don’t want to be saying.

This sort of thing is echoed in How
to Speak Dog, by Stanley Coren. It answers the age-old question of why dogs and
cats just don’t get along. One reason? They speak different languages. And not
just barking and meowing.

How to win the teacher over

The secret here is to neither buddy
up to the teacher, nor focus on grades. Parents and teachers make it sound like
grades are the most important thing ever. Grades count but they’re not the be
all and end all.

Grade-obsession teaches kids that
success is easily and regularly measured. But life just doesn’t work that way.
Once you get out of school, you generally won’t face weekly exams. You might
get performance evaluations at work every six months.

What you want to focus on instead
is the stuff you’re learning. Don’t worry if you can do something or not. You
will be able to. Lots of other students have taken these classes before you,
and if other kids can do it, so can you.

Besides, you have a secret weapon
here: If you don’t understand something, ask your teacher. Teachers live for
this. And often, they will let you know in not very subtle ways just what’s on
that test. Instead of spending one second worrying about your grades, spend
that time understanding the subject. The payoff will come — both in class and
later in life. Because that’s how things really work: If you don’t know your
stuff, you won’t succeed.

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