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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Letter to a High School Student

By Peter DeWitt — October 30, 2011 5 min read
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Facebook certainly has made life interesting over the past few years since its inception. For those of us over 30, we have been faced with the opportunity to see those people from high school that we long forgot about. There was a time when we only had to worry about seeing high school friends every ten years when we attended our high school class reunions, which is why some of us skipped our ten year reunion.

My own high school experience, where I graduated in 1989, was not stellar and many of my classmates that I reconnected with were surprised to see that I am a principal. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I was not known for my academic prowess.

In high school, I was a sub-sophomore because I did not have enough credits to be a sophomore, and I graduated ranked fourth from last in my class. I am better off giving high school students lessons in what not to do instead of advice on how to get through the experience successfully.

However, as a school principal who struggled a great deal in my youth, I also understand that some high school students hate their high school experience and have no idea why they are forced to go there. And, as some of my readers who think that the institution of brick and mortar is so nineteenth century, I know there are parents who believe that high schools have nothing to offer to this generation.

I disagree with the old brick and mortar sentiment. Yes, high schools need to offer a balance between less seat time, on-line learning, and more of a focus on twenty-first century skills. However, those old ways still offer some fantastic learning opportunities that we may only truly understand twenty years later after a conversation with an old and forgotten friend on Facebook. We need not only focus on the future that we forget the important lessons of the past.

People will look different in twenty years
Besides the fact that they all look older, heavier and have less hair, those same people around you end up learning life lessons as they get older, and will hopefully be different and more mature when they grow up. As much as you are not going to want to be defined by the mistakes you made when you were younger, many of those people don’t want to be defined by what they said and did when they were younger either.

Karma may have come back to bite the others who failed to learn any lesson, which is unfortunate but that is bound to happen to those who do not see the error in their ways.

The people who make you feel badly about yourself will be wrong
There are always people around you who want you to feel badly about yourself and help to lower your self-esteem. Learn from those situations because there are adults like that who you will have to work with in the future. Life is short, prove them wrong. It feels better when you see them later in life and you are successful.

High school can sometimes be a place where you are defined by who your older siblings were, parents are, and the mistakes you made three years ago. College and the workplace can offer you a clean slate where you are no longer defined by who you used to be but who you want to be.

Be careful that the mistakes you make today will not hurt you tomorrow
Many adults got into trouble when they were younger. When I skipped class for the first time in high school I got caught and tried lying about it and ended up with an in-house suspension. I learned not to skip class and I learned not to lie. It was my high school coach who turned me in, and I am profoundly happy he did because I learned I was going down a bad road and needed to change it.

Try not to make mistakes that will ruin your chance to get into college or get a job. If you do, learn from the mistake and move on. Don’t keep repeating bad mistakes over and over because it will not just hurt you, it will hurt those around you who love you.

Your parents aren’t as bad as you think
Some kids have parents who do not care about them. They dabble in illegal activities and put their children in harmful situations. When you’ve never been out of the house and on your own, it’s hard to deal with the rules that your parents set for you. Be thankful that you have rules and parents who expect you to abide by them. There are many kids that do not have that luxury. At some point you will grow up and see that your parents had the best intentions for you.

In the end
High school still offers life lessons to students, and many of those lessons have nothing to do with high stakes testing and other mandates that schools face. They offer important lessons such as dealing with your first broken heart, friendships that do not always work out, interactions with teachers and learning from your mistakes.

High school can give some kids role models that they lack at home. A great teacher, aide, coach or administrator can be a supportive ear for students who struggle the most. The day to day interactions can help turn a student’s life around.

High school does not just offer lessons that you learn in the classroom but it offers lessons you learn in the hallway between classes and lessons on a Friday night when you find yourself far away from the watchful eyes of your parents and teachers.

Don’t be defined by who you are today but by who you want to be in the future. You may feel as though no one understands you or may not love you for who you are but that is wrong. There are many people in life that you will meet that will have a profound impact on you and none of them may have gone to high school with you. Others may be the very high school friends you lost touch with and happened to find through social networking.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, twenty years down the road you will still keep in contact with friends you grew up with who saw you at your worst and still did not hold it against you. Friends who never called, or made you feel, stupid even though they were going to Cornell and you were struggling to get into a community college. The old brick and mortar, although an old institution, still offers some important lessons that prepare kids for life.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.