APRIL 2021
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You CAN Get Perfect Grades!

By Robert LeVine

Excuses. I’m tired of hearing them.

Compared to what you will face in college and beyond, high school isn’t that hard. When you encounter the real world beyond what I call Day Prison, you’ll understand what “hard” really means.

Perfect grades? Yes, you can do it – many people do – but you’re probably not learning as well as you can. It doesn’t take hours and hours of misery to learn new material. Here are some easy strategies for success in the classroom.

First, get some rest. Too many students waste time, play video games too long, and pull all-nighters. Your bodies are still growing – do you realize how much energy it takes to grow bones? – and losing sleep obviously affects your ability to function. I wouldn’t have to work another day if I had a dollar for every time I had to tell a student “Go to bed!”

Second, improve your focus by avoiding distractions. In the classroom, put the mobile phone away, stop gossiping with friends, and just try to pay better attention to your teacher. With online learning, put away distractions (phones, games, open tabs), try to avoid the refrigerator, and go to a different room or a library or a Starbucks to give yourself a different learning environment.

You probably knew those two tips. But there’s more …

Our third strategy recognizes a deficiency in the educational system. Professional educators design curricula with intention. There’s a reason certain courses are required. But what are those reasons? The adults never say. Students thus lack context for what they are told to learn. They are forced to take classes for no known reason. The subjects just don’t seem relevant to their futures. If the material doesn’t matter, then the student’s attention is challenged. Poor attention translates to poor absorption. So, students study at home to teach themselves material they just don’t care about. It doesn’t work well.

Instead, talk with your teacher. They know how everything fits together. They know why their subjects should matter to you. Just a few minutes to ask “How does this fit into my future” can suddenly make sense of everything. If it matters, it will be easier to learn.

Our business students are good examples of the “I will care if it matters” philosophy. Invariably, they say they are not interested in learning a foreign language if it’s not required. However, when I mention that China is a big player in international business, and if they don’t know anything about Chinese language or culture they cannot benefit from that huge economic resource, they immediately decide to study Mandarin. It’s a tool for business success.

As a fourth strategy, don’t complain about the competency of your teachers. When one student told me that his AP History teacher “sucked,” I told him that was unfortunate, but the problem was the student, not the teacher. “But my teacher is bad!” Yeah, I know, and so do you. Why let an inferior instructor destroy your future?

Instead, look beyond the stuff they force-feed you. If you understand that some educational institution like AP or IB or Cambridge designed the curriculum, then you should also realize that teachers are given not only the syllabus, but also a teacher’s manual. That’s a hint: there are additional materials available. Look online.

Did you know that both AP and IB have educational partners that provide online instruction for each section of each course? Quite literally, they break everything down, piece by piece, and teach it in different formats, both written and video. Plus, there are also lots and lots of unofficial sources for every course you take. Look in a search engine, or YouTube, and you’ll find efficient, easy supplements to what is provided in class.

Finally, do not forget that there are professional tutors who teach the materials presented in your classes. UCA works with tutors who can help you. Just ask us.

Ultimately, nobody’s perfect, so when things start to feel imperfect, be responsible to yourself. Seek help. Don’t run away from the challenges. Go toward your teachers, find the online materials that have been designed to help students, and get a tutor if necessary. Why struggle?

One more thing: remember your parents. They have taken care of you for your entire life. Parents are the most important part of your team, and they will help you. Run toward them, not away.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com


In Defense of the (Pandemic Era) Teenager

By Anu Varma Panchal

With my daughters turning 16 and 13 this year, we are firmly in the middle of what we had been told to dread: The Teen Years.

We were warned about the backtalk, the escalating car insurance, the resistance to authority, the mood swings, the deplorable hygiene and all sorts of frightening, rebellious behavior. Is it all true? Perhaps — on a sliding scale and depending on the individual child — but this year of all years, I think the much-maligned teenager needs a break.

The pandemic has posed challenges for every age group, but teenagers may have suffered some of the worst social losses. At a time in their life when they are supposed to be spreading their social wings and hanging out with peers, they are cooped up at home, missing proms, graduations, performances and entire sports seasons.

Our teenagers are navigating all the awkwardness of e-learning — trying to connect with teachers and students they may have never met in person and working up the nerve to ask a question into a monitor full of foreheads and ceiling fans. We complain that they’re glued to screens all day long, but how can they not be, when everything from school to piano to seeing friends now has to happen on a phone or laptop? We complain that they are always in their rooms, but where else can they go to get their own space?

They are juggling hard classes, competitions, college applications and dorm life in a completely altered landscape. Some are even caring for siblings or working while trying to zoom school —often with little grace from a system that has not backed down on expectations despite the fractured nature of the school year. And they’re doing this without any of the social rites of passage that would normally ease the way. As my daughter told me: “It’s all the hard parts of school without any of the fun.”

Despite this, many of the teens I know are trying to change the world. They are smart, informed and interested. They use social media to fundraise and spread awareness of political, social justice and environmental causes, and take to streets and boardrooms to advocate. They are so much more accepting of people different from them than I remember being at that age, and quick to correct assumptions and protect and speak up for others.

Are they sometimes strident? Yes, but remember when you were 15 or 16? No feelings are as intense as the ones you have in the grips of an adolescent brain and body. If you have teen girls, there’s extra expectation of drama — but beware the underlying misogyny behind interpreting a girl expressing her feelings as “drama.” How many women out there like having their anger or sadness dismissed as an overreaction? I’ll take their strong emotions over jaded sullenness or adult cynicism any day.

That’s not to say you won’t bump heads about everything from school to fashion. My sweet child who let me put bows in her hair now scorns my sartorial suggestions, and I have learned that it is better for my peace of mind to not open her closet door. I am appalled by some of her music choices, yet also humbled by the realization that I have arrived at an age where my child recognizes more people at the Grammys than I do. It’s tough to resist the temptation to launch into a lecture or recite a to-do list each time I get a rare sighting of a teenager in the living room, but not wanting them to vanish back into their rooms for another six hours, I try and force myself to just listen instead.

So, to those of you with younger kids: While the teen phase may test your patience to the max, it’s a beautiful thing to watch your children go through this complicated process of figuring out who they are. They are test-driving a more grown-up version of themselves that they will soon be launching into the world. It can be hard because it forces you to replace the idealized version of the child you thought you had with the reality of who they are turning out to be. But it is such fun, and also a privilege to see them growing into themselves and to be alongside them for the ride. And as for the future? It’s in excellent hands.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com

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