Students are “supposed to” dread the beginning of school.  This is a part of the American culture, like baseball and apple pie.  But I’m not buying it.

I don’t think most children have wonderful summers.  I think mostly they’re bored. I know there are lots of families who go on grand vacations and do picnics every week and all that.  But I suspect the majority of our kids are sitting at home, bored out of their minds.  Many parents get very few days off, and more haven’t saved money for a trip anywhere.  The Have Nots of our nation don’t hit Disneyland in the summer; they’re lucky to get a few days at the neighborhood pool.

So I’m of the opinion that most students are glad for school to start again.  It’s a time of reunion with friends they haven’t seen all summer, ready access to books, and the structure that so many of us need in our daily lives.

That said, I have a little list of – call them suggestions, advice, or good habits – but don’t call them rules.  These are not things students are required to do, and some will totally disregard them.  That’s their decision. In our great nation, you do indeed have the right to remain ignorant. If you choose not to remain ignorant, you will have a more pleasant and successful life for decades to come.

So here they are:

  1. Learn the multiplication tables. No matter how hard it seems, it will be worth it for the rest of your life.  Make flash cards, play computer games, do whatever you have to do to get that information inside your head.  I promise, you’ll be glad you did.
  1. Learn proper keyboard fingering. It’s a pain, but it, too, is worth it. Hunt and peck seems faster at the beginning, but it’ll never match the speed and accuracy you can hit with proper finger placement. So just do the work. You’ll never be sorry.
  1. Remember that education is not something that a teacher does to you; it’s something you do for yourself. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility.  The teacher’s job is to make the learning available to you, but no teacher can make you learn anything.  That’s up to you. So even in the class where the teacher seems not to care, you need to care.
  1. Be a reader. Read lots of different books and magazines and Internet articles.  Read about what you believe, and read books by people you disagree with.  There’s a special kind of ignorance rampant in our nation today: the kind shown by people who read only the things they already know or already believe to be true.  Especially on the Internet, there are extremists on both ends of any issue, but the truth is rarely found in extremism. Do the research. As much as it’s possible, figure out what you believe about an issue, for yourself; don’t just accept the regurgitated ideas of someone else. And seeing it on the Internet does not make it true.
  1. Appreciate, but don’t worship, diversity. If you have the right to be yourself and express that self, then so does everyone else.  If you want respect, you’re going to have to give respect.  That’s how it works.
  1. Stand up to injustice. And unfortunately, you will see injustice in school. Bullies have been around ever since civilization began; I don’t think they’re going to disappear any time soon.  Don’t be one, and don’t give in to one. And when you see a bully doing a job on someone smaller or weaker, do what you can about it.  Doing nothing is saying it’s okay.  But don’t get yourself killed or something.  That would ruin your whole day.
  1. Don’t refuse to read the textbook and do the assignments, and then expect your teacher to come up with some way, the last week of class, to let you pass the course. Just don’t.
  1. If at all possible, come to class with the stuff you need for class. There are teachers every year who have to skip lunch because they spent so much money on pencils and paper for their students.  That’s just wrong. If you can afford sodas and crap food, you can afford school supplies.
  1. You might not like your teacher. Of course, all my students adored me, but I have heard that’s not always the case.  You and your teacher may not hit if off, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from her/him. Really, having a teacher you don’t like is good preparation for eventually having a boss you don’t like.  Which will probably also happen at some point.
  2. You may feel like you know more about the subject than the teacher does. And it may be true. Sometimes teachers get assigned classes that would not be their first, or second, choice. And let’s face it, there are a few teachers who really probably shouldn’t be in the classroom. It’s hard to understand how they got through college. Try to be kind to those teachers.  How would you like to go to a job every day that you knew you weren’t good at? If you have three or four truly excellent teachers in your school career, count yourself lucky.  Sorry; that’s how it is.
  3. You may also feel like your teacher doesn’t care if anybody learns anything. I’ve certainly had years when I had more personal energy to invest than other years. Teachers, being people (and yes, they really actually are people), have whole lives separate from school. They have families and mortgages and misbehaving children and health problems. They get depressed and sick and worried at times. Now, I personally believe that teachers are professionals and should suck it up while on the job and do the job. But I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing; not everyone is. So don’t take it personally if your teacher is distracted. You don’t understand his life any more than he understands yours.
  4. Erase the word “can’t” from your personal dictionary. Replace it with “don’t know how yet.” The change in wording will bring a change in attitude. I promise.
  5. Choose who you hang out with carefully. Your closest friends will have a big influence on you. A thousand years ago, when I was in high school, I knew a girl who was funny and interesting, but I didn’t hang with her, because she smoked and drank and skipped school and shoplifted, and I didn’t want to do that stuff. So even though I liked her at school, we weren’t really good friends. (Plus, she didn’t want to hang with me, because I was a “square”).14.
  6. In this country, the law makes you go to school for a lot of years. Since you’re going to be there anyway, you might as well learn something.

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