The Season of Change
By Desmond T. Burke, Deputy Head - Student Life
Posted May 11, 2011
During this busy time of year, as we begin the final stretch before the summer vacation, many students will begin to have a dawning awareness of the changes ahead. While most students will simply be wondering about who their classmates and teachers will be next year, some students will face the added uncertainty of moving from one division to another, changing schools or even graduation, which can mean the loss of comfortable routines and surroundings.
Uncertainty is what drives so much of the anxiety. Knowledge and a cool head are all you need to get through.
First off, the young person facing the change needs to learn as much as possible about what lies ahead. Events such as the Transition Nights, hosted by the HTS Guidance Department, can provide answers to all sorts of questions about routines and homework that can reduce much of the mystery of what’s ahead. Students can also consider looking through the Family Handbook to determine whether any of the routines or expectations are different. Another source of helpful information can be found by logging into Blackboard and reading teachers’ posted materials. Nothing mortifies a student who is already feeling nervous than being obviously out of uniform or appearing lost.
After years of interviewing teacher candidates who would like to join HTS, I’m no longer surprised by the number who drive to the school a few days before the interview to be absolutely sure there won’t be any mistakes on interview day. Students can consider adopting a similar strategy of going in early on the first day. While it is tempting to squeeze the last few minutes from the summer break and arrive late, be early and look around. Learn where things are. Say hello and introduce yourself to the new teachers and division heads while it’s still quiet. There’s research to indicate that students who have positive relationships with their teachers are more likely to perform better in school. Consider laying the foundation of those positive relationships before everyone else arrives and it’s easier to have someone’s undivided attention. Remember that teachers are nervous on the first day of school too, and so they appreciate a friendly face.
Join activities. Go to as many events as you are able and be involved. Nothing will make the transition to a new division or class harder than going home right after class ends, to get on with homework. While academics are central to the purpose of school, developing the social skills to be able to get along with your fellow students is very nearly as important, and those skills won’t develop at home during homework time. Teachers know that the students who perform best academically and are happiest are those who are heavily involved in school programs beyond the classroom, like athletics or the arts. Students who are involved have stronger social networks that will support them through the ups and downs of school life. An added bonus is that research says that these sorts of skills increase the likelihood of lifelong happiness.
Finally, take the news of other students’ plans with a grain of salt. Experienced parents know that when a child comes home and says, “Everyone’s going to . . . ” it usually means almost no one is. The talk that makes its way home about what everyone is doing next year is usually just talk, but it can make students worry that they’ve missed something. As a teacher, I’ve seen it more times than I can count and as a parent I’ve had those “Everyone’s” conversation used to try muscle me into capitulating on an issue I knew was a non-starter.
Try to bear in mind that these sort of anxiety bumps are a normal and important part of life and that young people need to learn to cope with them. Parents should not clear a track so that everything sails smoothly and seamlessly because great opportunities to learn life skills about coping with stress will be lost. It can be tough to watch a child struggle but there are great rewards in seeing your child flourish because you’ve taught them the skills they need to deal successfully with life’s challenges.