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Make the best of your school years

February 09, 2019

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Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

School years are the golden time of our life. What we accomplish and achieve during this time shapes our future. When I say ‘achieve’, I do not mean being a high achiever in terms of grades, although that does count as well. But the truth is, many students who focus only on being high achievers and top students of the class often do not take advantage of the other opportunities offered by the school because their only focus is seeing an A on their report cards by the end of the school year.

While most high achievers succeed in staying on top of the class, many average students stand out from the rest using other tactics. And as it is, they are more likely to be successful later in their lives compared to high achievers because of the skills they gain and the achievements they bag in the early years of their lives.

This is not to say that we should compromise our studies for the sake of getting awards, rather we should shift our focus from straight A’s to other areas. Because, trust me, once we step out of school into real, practical life, what will help us is the person we are and the skills we have, not the report card that is lying somewhere inside our drawer.

What are the tactics that stand-out students use? I learned some of them from my school years and here are my takeaways. You can choose to implement all of them (and get maximum advantage) or only those that suit you.

Participate in classroom discussions

Each class has some studious students who know everything inside out, yet they don’t contribute a single word in classroom discussions. And there are those too who hardly study a thing, yet speak with such confidence as if they know everything.

People in the latter category develop good debating skills and learn early that it is important to exert their opinion because it matters. It can be intimidating to say something in a class full of people because if you say something wrong, you feel you might come off as dumb. But the point is not that you are right or wrong; the point is that even if you don’t know everything, you are confident in what you know and are willing to learn more.

What we achieve and to what degree we polish our skills in school stays with us for life and always pays off

The more actively you participate in classroom discussions, the weaker your fear of public speaking becomes and eventually you reach a point when you can go on the stage and speak in front of an audience.

Ask questions if you don’t understand something. What I have learned is that whenever I say something in class or answer a teacher’s question, I am more likely to remember that concept.

Get involved in extracurricular activities

You have been told several times about getting yourself engaged in extracurricular activities, trust me this is not wrong. You don’t get the same opportunities in college or university that you get in school. Be it competitions, inter-school contests, debates, clubs and societies, volunteering or athletics offers you tonnes of opportunities to grow and enhance your skills on a multitude of levels.

Don’t shy away from any of these activities because of the fear of competition, rejection, failing, facing people or embarrassment. Whatever opportunity there is, you deserve it as much as everybody else. And even if some people might be better at it than you, they too were once starters just like you. Such opportunities help you build skills like leadership, competitiveness and confidence. Be on the lookout for them, they keep coming up from time to time. A good way to do this is to keep an eye on school notice boards and announcements.

Give everything a try. Better fail than not try at all and wish that you had.

Play sports

When I was in school, I had always wanted to play sports. But I always felt I wasn’t a ‘sports person’ and lacked the required skills compared to my peers. For this reason, I never tried stepping into any of the school sports’ teams.

A lot of people I knew in school were as clueless as me when they entered the teams but, with time, they mastered the skills required. If you’re already good at sports, then I’m betting you’re already a part of any of your school’s sports team. But if you’re not, then take your chance while it’s there.

Sports help you develop numerous skills, including teamwork, handling pressure, focus, perseverance, toughness and confidence, to name a few. It’s also a healthy way to relieve your mind of academic stress and stay physically fit.

Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

Connect with teachers

Teachers aren’t just there to deliver a lecture and give marks, they are there for so much more. If you feel stuck in something, approach them and they’ll help you get unstuck. If you need guidance in any matter they can help you with that too. I suggest that you stay active during classes and participate. This way you automatically become noticeable to teachers and fall in their good books. If you participate in extracurricular activities, then you have an advantage over other students as teachers are more likely to select you for any future activities/competitions.

Connecting with teachers is important because they can introduce you to many opportunities and help you when you need it most. Staying in the sidelines won’t do you any good. Some of your peers might label you a ‘teacher’s pet’. My only advice is: ignore them and focus on your life and yourself.

Be with good people

Peers and friends influence you in ways you can’t imagine. Their opinions become your opinions, their reputation gets attached to yours, their vocabulary seeps into your mind and their mindset can influence yours.

You are better off without negative people who always try to pull you down, people who complain about everything, people who stay in the background when it comes to good and in the foreground when it comes to bad. Peer pressure can make you do things you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. It’s a different thing to get acquainted with a lot of people in school and is always a good idea, but things can become very bleak when you stick around with those who do more harm to you than good. Know many people, but hang around with only a few — those who support you, help you grow and make you happy.

Stay organised

The pressure, the workload and the deadlines can easily make things haphazard. If you don’t stay on track from the beginning of the year, you’ll find yourself cramming and freaking out by the end of it. Managing academics along with extracurricular activities is a key skill you need to develop during school years and one that will help you later in life as well.

Therefore, make and organise your notes, study a little everyday rather than leaving it all for the last minute, keep track of upcoming deadlines and tests, pay attention to lectures during classes and do a group study session with friends if needed. Get enough sleep at home so that you don’t have to compensate for lack of it inside the classroom.

Part of being organised also means looking organised. Wear tidy and neatly pressed uniform, polished shoes, a decent hairstyle, a wristwatch (optional) and a confident look. Spray some deodorant so you don’t smell bad. Don’t forget to brush your teeth in the morning. Act like a smart student if you wish to become one.

The objective of schooling is learning, not getting A grades. Allow yourself to learn and grow, later in life, you’ll be grateful that you did.

Published in Dawn, Young World, February 9th, 2019