How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Making This the Best School Year Yet

Nine ideas to help you or your child get the most from education

Public Domain CC 3.0
Every year, students—adult and child alike—hope this school year will be great: that our teachers will like us, inspire us, and that we really will learn and grow.

Perhaps you’ll find something among these tips to help this school year live up to the hope. While aimed primarily at college and graduate students, some of these ideas may apply to children.

Learn to crave learning. Yes, some of what is taught is irrelevant in the real world but before rationalizing goofing off by thinking, “I’ll never need to know that,” it’s worth trying to get yourself to appreciate the joy of learning for its own sake. It can actually be quite pleasurable, even if it is Medieval Linguistics.

If that’s insufficiently motivating, picture the benefits of getting a good grade and the liabilities of not, for example, “I’ll feel smart. My parent/spouse will be proud of me. It will help me get into a better college or a better job.” But best is if you can value learning for its own sake. At its best, education should inculcate a lifetime love of learning.

Get ahead. If there’s a course you’re particularly worried about, get a head start. For example, start studying the textbook as early as possible, even before the instructor gets to that chapter, maybe even before the semester begins.

Apply it. As you’re in class or doing readings or assignments, keep asking yourself, “How might this apply to my life: personally, as a citizen, or professionally?

Ask questions. It’s tempting to not ask questions for fear of appearing stupid, but questions are key to ensuring you get personalized instruction. Most teachers, even august professors, like students who ask questions. If you worry that your questions will slow down the class, see or email the instructor after class or visit during office hours.

Don’t fall behind. There’s a natural tendency to procrastinate or be in denial about falling behind. You think, “It’s only the beginning. I’ll catch up.” Alas, the beginning is usually the easiest part of the course and later parts often build on earlier ones, so if you fall behind, you may not be able to catch up in time. If you don’t understand a lot in the first class or assignment, that may be the best time to see your instructor for help, form or join a study group, visit the college’s tutoring center, or hire a tutor.

Decide if you’re a solo or a groupie. Especially with a difficult subject, some people benefit from joining a study group—but not always. Sometimes, group members are too low- or high-level or are more or less interested in socializing than you are.

Alter the assignment? Often the instructor is willing to let you do a paper or project different from the regularly assigned one. Propose one that would serve you better professionally or personally (and, okay, be more fun).

Choose your supervisor. Some courses include supervised fieldwork, for example, in psychology, education, or management. A good supervisor can really abet your development as a professional, so consider choosing your own. For example, if you’re training to be a teacher, you might ask your all-time favorite teacher if you can student teach in his or her classroom. And certainly, if after the first meeting or two with your supervisor, you feel you’d probably be better served by someone else, ask your instructor for a change. S/he usually will accede.

Have fun. Many students think of school (or at least required courses) as something to get over with. In fact, many people look back on their school years as among their best, even discounting extracurricular life. Why? When you’re a student, you’re in the role of taker—soaking in what courses give you. In contrast, when you’re out of school, you’re expected--as a professional, spouse, parent, and volunteer--to be a giver. Try to savor your education.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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