10 Tips for High School Freshmen


My ninth-grade team, comprised of five seasoned educators with a collective 75+ years of teaching experience, takes pride in the ninth-grade curriculum we have created for our students. Through that lens, we have ten words of wisdom for students embarking on their first year of high school, though many of these adages apply to all grade levels. So, students, read on and learn as you reflect on the experience that is high school.

1. Get to know your teachers. They care about you.

Kids often do not realize that their teachers truly care about them as if they were their own family. I cannot tell you the many nights I’ve found myself sleepless with worry over one of my students. I am also just as excited when a student reaches their goal. My team agrees. We advocate, encourage, support, and want the best for you, just like your parents. When a student gets to know his teachers, he sees the result: motivation improves and success follows.  

2. Fuel your body with the tools you need to succeed. 

What does that mean? Sleep, food, exercise. Teens need an average of nine hours of sleep per night. Netflix binges, and all-night COD can interfere, so be smart. Get plenty of rest. Parents need not be afraid of removing distractions (the cell phone, computer, tablet) to ensure rest. Many students have walked into my classroom tired and cranky due to late-night texting. Students also need to eat healthy foods. Teens cannot exist on Gatorade and Doritos, especially when you are what you eat. Exercise is also important, but mainly as a stress buster. High school can be stressful; determining a routine of exercise will help your brain and body function at their peak. With the right combination of these fuels, you will create habits that will last a lifetime. 

3. Find support in the right places.

Parents, counselors, coaches, and teachers can be relied upon to steer you in the right direction when you find yourself navigating a tricky dilemma. And let’s face it, at fourteen, your area of expertise in many subject areas is lacking. Teens are still learning and can be trusted to make mistakes. Seek help. Adults: It’s important to listen and guide, but ultimately, teens need to learn from mistakes with logical consequences.

4. Get involved.

We know this is what makes high school: clubs, sports, games, arts, service, and travel. All of these together create friendships and memories that last and allow you to become a part of a community—something bigger than you. Be a part of it, and you will have a lot more fun. Case in point:

5. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely. 

At our school’s Inspiring Learning series, Rogan Kersh, WFU’s Provost, shared this piece of advice with our ninth graders several years ago. This adage rings true and reminds me of my grandmother’s sage wisdom, always perfectly timed with a planned evening of mischief. Think about it—how often have you been accused of misbehavior when a buddy implodes? The company you keep defines your character, so surround yourself with friends who lift you up, want the best for you, and make good choices.  

6. Know when to slow your pace and when to “get it.”

Our team regularly praises students for “gettin’ it.” Translation: goals set, consistent effort maintained, and achievement met. Your freshman year is when you establish the foundation to support your learning in the years to come. If you put forth minimal effort, expect gaps in your learning later. Perfection is never the goal, so taking the time to reflect on the big academic picture should help you determine when to slow your pace. Mainly, if you want life to happen, go after it . . . life doesn’t come calling. You got to get it! 

7.  Ninth-grade matters.

No need to ease into high school: your freshman year is equally important as your sophomore, junior, and senior years. Working ahead, reviewing daily, and staying organized are all good habits that will help you succeed. Recognize when you need help, and ask for it. (By the way, seeking help doesn’t make you weak; it makes you savvy, assertive, and resourceful.) Remember that the only place “success” comes before “work” is in the dictionary. Do your work, and reap the rewards! A tip: create a binder by year to house transcripts, awards, service work, and all the character-building records you will need to apply for college.  

8. Different is not less than. Be open to others.

High school is when you begin to shape the kind of adult you will be. Staying open-minded allows you to experience anything and everything you choose. Practice tolerance and acceptance everywhere you go, even if you’re uncomfortable with the way a person is. Being kind to the loner in the cafeteria doesn’t make you weird; it just makes you a good person.  

9. Be kind.  

Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird leaves quite an impression on his children, Scout and Jem, when he says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Empathy and compassion for others are really what most parents want from their children, so go forth and be the good in the hall, at the lunchroom, on the field, in the classroom, and on the bus. Your character matters. Be intentional.

10.  There’s a reason you have two ears and one mouth.

It’s so important to listen and think BEFORE speaking. High school can be a place of judgment, low self-esteem, and bullying. Avoid contributing to those behaviors, and in fact, rehearse how to stop them. Always listen more than you speak. 

To freshmen everywhere, we get it. As you begin to think about what’s ahead, recognize that we know times have changed, but the fundamentals of the experience remain the same. High school is a roaring good time. The people, teachers, and experiences all create memories that bring limitless laughter and smiles. Show school spirit in the biggest of ways, dance like a fool, go to prom, ask a girl out, take appropriate risks and play. Find the fun in high school! 


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