What I Wish I Knew Going into Highschool
Shivaanu Mahendrarajan and Austin Mardon
Back in the summer of grade 8, I was a very introverted, overthinking, people-pleaser of a person. I was going to a high school that was different from my home high school, meaning that there were going to be a lot more new faces than familiar ones. Of course, being the overthinker that I was, I began to stress about how I would survive. And being the people-pleaser that I was, I wanted everyone to like me. So I did some research, reading plenty of articles like this one wanting to be as best prepared as I could be for the social aspects of high school. However, I felt that most of the tips from these articles had many holes and gaps that I didn’t fully fill around until around the end of grade 11. Unfortunately for me, due to the pandemic, my high school career ended almost directly after that. This article will cover the general tips that I learned after first reading them 6 years ago, followed by my story of me following them and what I learned. Just a disclaimer, this article about what I wish I knew going into high school is not just for anxious high schoolers looking for guidance as I share a valuable life lesson I learned that is applicable to anyone at any stage of their life. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
The Tip and the Travesty
In grade 8 and the grades before that, I was always a good student. By this, I mean that I got grades and didn’t disrupt the class. However, that is not what this section is about. In grade 8, the only times I would ever talk to my teachers would be in regards to academics. I could never joke with them or have any rapport in that sense. I realized that if I did go back and visit my elementary school and greeted my teachers, it wouldn’t feel like meeting up with an old friend. It would just feel like going back to class. So in high school, I wanted to change this. This section is about being a student that teachers will recall the name of, even years after you graduate.
Tips that I read about in the summer before high school on this topic would essentially instruct that you do things to make you stand out to the teachers. This would boil down to 2 things: participating in class and going to them for help after class or after school. I thought those starting points were reasonable enough and so I followed them. Sometimes I would follow them for the sake of following them, but I did follow them on a consistent basis. I had thought that I was making some progress in making myself more memorable, I had an expereince that i will never forget: in the 11th grade, my math teacher who I had had for the third year in a row had forgotten my name.
Initially, I was in denial. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t so. I tried to convince myself that there had to be an external reason she couldn't conjure up my name, but I failed to find one. I was sitting in the same spot I always sat in during that class so she couldn’t have mistaken me for someone else. I maintained a similar haircut and style throughout high school so it’s not like I would have looked different from any other year she taught me. I just had to accept a painful truth: it’s less that she forgot me, and it’s more that she hardly knew me in the first place.
After accepting this, I had a long session of self-relfection where I asked myself some questions. Why did she not know my name? I followed those tips so why did they fail? Is there something about me that is inherently forgettable? And in my reflection, I went back and replayed memories of all my interactions with that teacher and didn’t see anything wrong. It was only until I started paying closer attention to my friends’ interactions with that teacher did I realize something fundamentally different: their physical stance, their vocal expressions, their facial expressions, body language, eye contact. It was perfect. It was as if they were following the presentation-skills section of a rubric. Most interesting of all of these: they smiled. They might be asking a question regarding calculus, one of the most mundane subjects, and yet, they would ask it with a smile.
What a foreign concept.
I decided I would ask my friends about what I saw. “What about derivatives makes you smile?” They laughed and said that they just randomly smile to appear more friendly. More likeable. More memorable. Initially, I found it silly. But then they said that they did it with everyone and not just with teachers. After hearing this, I had to try it out for myself in my grade 12 year and the results were instant. When you smile at people, they smile back. For no reason. People just mirror what they see. Suddenly, my interactions with teachers over the last decade of my education just clicked: teachers would rarely engage in conversation with me because my body language and tone was so disengaging. Even though math was one of my favourite subjects, because I didn’t look like I was enjoying it, my teacher would just assume that I hated it. So I learned that to a teacher, it doesn’t matter if you are an engaged student who’s loving subject unless you act like you do. Then I realized that this transfers to students and anyone for that matter. After this realization did I discover something profound:
What I Wish I Knew Going into Highschool
Life is a presentation and the world is your stage.
And while yes, this experience with my teacher of 3 years forgetting my name was not necessarily one that I remember fondly, it is one that I am glad happened, as it had taught me this valuable lesson. It doesn’t matter to others what you think, or say, or do in your spare time. What matters to others is how you appear to them. Not necessarily the way you dress, but the body language and tone you use. The vocabulary you use. What you say. All of these are the ingredients people use to create their perceptions of you. If I had known this going into highschool, I would have presented myself and acted quite differently.
So there you have it: what I wish I knew going into high school. Hopefully, you have enjoyed reading this article, whether this is from learning the lesson I hoped to teach or if it was just amusing to follow me along my journey. If you did learn something, good for you! But if you didn’t I’m sure that you have someone in your life who you think would benefit from reading this. And to reiterate a point from earlier in this article: happy presenting!