Five Ways to Impress Your Teacher

As these summer days languish- and for some early bird school districts like mine- already linger in the rear view mirror, the introduction between teachers and students is right around the corner. First impressions are hard to shake– research suggests that it takes seven positive meetings to negate one bad impression–which is all the more reason to consider introductions a fresh start, something we should embrace heartily.

I’ve met so many extraordinary students in my years of teaching, but not gonna lie, certain students stand out in my memory more than others. Many kids believe that the ones I’ll love the most are the “good test takers”, the ‘A’ students, the kids who raise their hands, and always seem to know the answer. And while it’s true that I do appreciate those students very much, those are not the only qualities I love. In fact, they’re not even the traits I love most. In other words, you don’t have to be the highest achieving student in class to make a fantastic impression.

As you prepare to walk the halls this fall, check out these ways to knock the socks off your teachers.

1.) Ask genuine questions. Every teacher has been subject to the “tangent” game: the one where kids try earnestly to lead instructors off topic by asking a stream of questions about Rudy Giuliani, pungent cheeses, or the inherent connection between One Direction and the Apocalypse. Admittedly, it’s fun to talk about random things– even for teachers–but that’s not the same as asking a “genuine” question about String Theory. Be real with your teachers by asking questions that you actually what to know the answer to. They’ll love you for being engaged and thinking beyond the basics.

2.) Embrace their “people-ness”. Teachers want to be liked just as much as you do, and not just because they know their subject matter. They want to be recognized for their humor, creativity, friendliness, and exotic animal collections. Instead of focusing solely on those Algebra problems every morning, start the year with a little curiosity about Mrs. Johnson’s boa constrictor, Mr.Roberto’s punk band, and Miss Milchewski’s annual pilgrimage to The Great Ball of Yarn. 

3.) Be compassionate to your peersWhen the boy sitting next to you spills the contents of his entire book bag on the floor, why not be the first to help him pick it up? Extending kindness to our peers is not only the considerate thing to do, it builds good Karma, and everyone can use a little banking in that department. Taking a moment to step away from the seductive glow of the cell phone screen in order to observe the needs of those around us is a good way to remind ourselves how vast the world really is.

4.) Make eye contact. Don’t worry: I’m not suggesting that students stare deeply into teachers’ eyes–that’s creepy– but meeting Mr. Ellman’s gaze when he’s talking to the class signals attentiveness. Let’s face it: even if you’re avidly considering every word that drops from Miss Coleson’s lips, if you stare intensely at your desktop, she might assume you’re actually contemplating your latest Snapchat rather than the merits of the Monroe Doctrine.

5.) Press “pause”. I saved the toughest for last. Pressing pause is the hardest because it involves our emotions, and the impulse to react first, think second. It’s happened to all of us: the moment when we snapped in reaction to someone else’s words, and before you know it, a firestorm of angry messiness is exploding for all to see. So…press pause. The next time a fellow student or teacher threatens to “push your buttons”, press pause instead. There’s more strength and dignity in self-control than in the quick satisfaction of an angry comeback.

Enjoy your school year! 


Five Reasons to Read YA Lit

Growing up, the genre of Young Adult literature available to me was fairly small. Sure, I enjoyed detective work of the Bobbsey Twins & Nancy Drew; coming of age tales in Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High; and stark, realistic fiction by Paul Zindel, Richard Peck, and Cynthia Voigt. These titles were inspiring and entertaining, sending me eagerly unwrapping copies for every major gift-giving event (Christmas, birthday, Tuesday…) I gratefully pay homage to these YA trailblazers, yet I also can’t help but swim in a pool of jealousy when I view the vast titles available to today’s teen readers. What I wouldn’t have given to add a little John Green, Sarah Dessen, Rainbow Rowell, Simone Elkeles, Veronica Roth, or Victoria Aveyard to my repertoire as I navigated the murky waters of high school. But what I’ve discovered today, is that it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since I was a teen because YA lit is deliciously addictive and entertaining for readers of ANY age.

1.) Universality

We’ve all been there. Though we will diverge greatly in our adult lives from the paths of our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors–high school is a mandatory experience. Every one of us can remember athletic events, dating highs and lows, good teachers, bad teachers, embarrassing moments, cafeteria food, exams, Who’s Who and Who Isn’t Who….the list goes on and on. So take a trip back to teen life by reading YA, or if you’re in the midst right now, stay and ruminate with a great story to share the angst.

2.) Catharsis

Who wouldn’t like a temporary time travel experience? Just a quick hop back to the moment when Ms. Queen Bee orchestrated a humiliating scheme, but this time, we’d know what to say; or the time we chickened out at that key audition, tryout, prom invitation. You name it: I guarantee there’s a least one moment we’d all like a second chance to handle. Until Apple invents iTravel, there’s little hope of going back…except in spirit. YA lit is a great chance to root for the teenage experience.

3.) Hope

There’s plenty of darkness in YA lit, but the difference between the tragedy of adult fiction and the tragedy of young adult fiction is measured in shades of hope. Despite all that the hero faces, if he’s the star of a YA novel, his chances of coming out the other side are pretty good. Some may say this detracts from the reality of the experience, but in every romantic comedy or action-adventure story line, we lovingly expect the same, so why not embrace the kernels of optimism in these dramas?

4.) Fountain of Youth

Vowing to stay young at heart? Reading about every exciting first in life: school dance, rock concert, blushing romance…these thrills might only be new to us once, but in the eyes of YA characters, they become new all over again.

5.) Awakening

At the heart of every good young adult novel lies a deep connection to the power of relationships. YA celebrates best friendships, first loves, sibling bonds, and the truths we all long to uncover about our parents. It celebrates finding the Real Deal and awakening the self-actualized versions of ourselves, or at the very least, taking the first steps toward that completeness we all long to achieve.

Happy reading.