Go for the Gold: Some Advice for Students

By Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.
August 22, 2021 Updated: August 23, 2021

Heads up, gang! Are you ready for books, tests, teachers, and study?

It doesn’t matter what sort of school you attend. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in fourth grade or a college freshman. It doesn’t matter whether you spent last year in a classroom or distance-learning in your kitchen. Here are some tips that will help you meet your full potential as a student this year.

Be Present

Come to the classroom ready to learn. Before the class begins, have the requisite books, notebooks, and homework out on the table. If the classroom has open seating, sit near the front, where there are fewer distractions. Once the class begins, pay attention. Take notes. Listen and learn.

A special addendum for college students: Show up. Don’t cut classes except in the case of a true emergency. You’re paying money—in some cases, big bucks—to listen to a professor. Don’t throw the money or your education away.

Be Prepared

So you were supposed to read Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” for your seventh-grade English class or Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” for your college lit course. Maybe you forgot about it or maybe you put it off and ran out of time, but either way, it’s not good.

When you come unprepared for class, you can’t really follow a teacher’s lecture or participate in discussions. Even worse, at least from the standpoint of humiliation, you’ll be bumbling around if the teacher singles you out and asks a question.

Be prepared. It’s not just a lesson to learn in school. It’s a lesson to learn for life.

Be Organized

In her book “That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life,” Ana Homayoun stresses the importance of organization and the visualization of goals for young men. (The book would also work for girls.) An esteemed academic counselor and speaker, Homayoun also teaches her readers how to resist peer pressure and to avoid the anxiety sometimes caused by school.

During my years as a teacher, I found that lack of organization was a fundamental reason for a student’s poor performance. An example: When I would call for the class to turn in a paper assigned for homework, one or two of the students would spend the next couple of minutes digging through a backpack. If they actually found the assignment, the paper often looked as if the student had wrestled with it while writing it.

Whether you’re this student or a homeschooler who spends 15 minutes a day tracking down your Saxon math book, let me say it again: organize, organize, organize. You’ll be astounded by how much easier your academic life will become.

Be Proactive

You’re new to college, and the European history professor has assigned a 1,000-word paper on the Crusades. You complete the paper, but because you wrote so few essays in high school, you wonder if it’s any good. Here’s the next step: Hie yourself off to the school’s writing center and have one of the tutors read the paper and help you make it stronger. That’s why the college has hired these advanced students. One young man I know, now a successful attorney, often deliberately took his papers to the toughest tutor in the writing center, knowing that her critique would improve both his writing and his grade.

Or maybe you’re sitting in your 11th-grade chemistry class and the teacher is talking about the “mole.” When he finishes, he asks if there are any questions, but you don’t raise your hand and remain silent.

Big mistake. I know because I was that student. Mr. Parker, my chemistry teacher, would bring up the mole from time to time, and though I could recite the definition of the word, I really had no idea what it meant. Yet I was too shy to ask for further explanation.

Don’t be passive. Take charge of your learning.

Look Sharp

As a teacher, I sometimes wished I could take photos of my classes and then show them to the students. Some of them looked as if they had just rolled out of bed. Some had dressed as if they had chosen their clothes in total darkness. Some sat slumped at their desks, heads down to avoid eye contact. Some looked bored, and we hadn’t even begun class yet.

In contrast were those students who sat erect, books, notebooks, and pens at hand. Their bright faces and neat attire testified they were eager to begin work. They had clearly selected their clothing to show they were all business in the classroom.

Once I conducted an experiment with my classes. I asked the students to dress up on a test day, suggesting the boys wear ties and the girls slacks or dresses rather than jeans. The object of this experiment, I explained to them, was to discover whether they did better on that day’s test by dressing for success. Although most reported their clothing had made little difference in how they had tested, three boys wore ties to class for the rest of the year.

Looking sharp can enhance being sharp.

Dare to Be Great

Whatever happens with our schools this year—lockdowns, masks, distance learning, and anything else—brush those cobweb obstacles aside. Never give up and never despair. You have one goal: to learn. For most of you, this is your chief task for this time in your life. So banish boredom, take personal responsibility for your education, stuff that fine mind of yours with as much knowledge as possible, and aim for excellence.

Do these things, and you’ve just taken a giant step forward into adulthood.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.