How not to fail

October, 2022
Alexander MargulisThomas Zhang

It’s 12:30 a.m., and you have a lab report and an essay due tomorrow morning. Or is it this morning? Your brain is too tired and caffeine-charged to know—the only thing you are sure about is that your teachers are out to get you. It can sometimes feel like PHS is a big diabolical machine, the days populated by robotic teachers handing out assignment after assignment, the nights overrun by the task of completing the arduous paperwork that was handed out in the classroom. This, of course, is not the case. The vast majority of their teachers are kind, dedicated human beings, and above all, they want you to succeed. Yes, some of them could do better, but believe it or not, they are not completely to blame for all of your headaches.

For one, students should be aware of the time and effort that is required from advanced or AP classes before enrolling in five of them. They should ask themselves questions like: can I take AP English if I have soccer practice three days a week? If a student has to stay up until the twilight hours of the morning working on assignments, it is almost always that they have either overloaded themselves, or have waited until the last minute to complete them.

Unfortunately, many of the avenues that teachers try to construct to help students find success in their classes are highly underutilized. Office hours, for example, are one of the best ways that students can make sure they fully understand the skills and concepts that were covered in class, since they can ask any questions they might have directly to the teacher. With a resource that powerful, it seems like every single student would want to go to as many of these office hour sessions as possible, but instead, only a select few regularly attend. Because the office hours are so helpful, and demonstrate commitment to the class at hand, these students are almost unanimously the ones who get the highest grades on assessments. This creates almost a paradox—only the students who are already doing well continue to go to office hours, whereas the students who could benefit the most from them don’t. Students should try to attend teachers’ office hours regularly, even if they don’t have any burning questions—though they should make sure that they know what they wish to discuss beforehand. Speaking from personal experience, Dr. Corell, who teaches AP Chemistry, regularly encourages students to come to his room during lunch to work through homework and practice problems. After all, the single best place to do your chemistry homework is right beside your chemistry teacher.

There are also plenty of other avenues for getting in touch with a teacher about the subject matter other than office hours, like emailing them with questions or asking about anything that seems confusing during class time. PHS teachers don't want to make their content unnecessarily hard, and even though it can feel like some concepts are intentionally confusing, these are the very problems students should ask about. If a teacher realizes that the entire class is stuck on one problem, they’re likely to go over it again for everyone. No teacher wants their students to feel lost.

Teachers don’t want their students to miss a homework assignment either! Although it’s pretty common for students to say that they “didn’t know there was homework” if they miss an English reading or a math worksheet, many teachers already have systems to solve this problem. Pretty much every teacher at PHS has a schedule where students can find the homework assignments that are due every week embedded on their Canvas page. Whether it comes in a slide show, a Google Doc, or even an expansive spreadsheet that covers homework assignments for the entire year, these schedules can help make sure that students never have to turn in homework late just because they forgot it existed. It’s just like the textbooks that teachers send home at the beginning of the year, or the tutoring sessions that take place at the Ideas Center — the tools students need to succeed have already been handed to them, and the only thing stopping many students from scoring well on tests is that they haven’t started to use them yet.

There are many more specific problems that students might have in their classes, like feeling as though the readings are too dense, or wanting to redo a problem on the test because you never learned one of the earlier math concepts that it included, that these methods might not directly address. Still, if students go into their classrooms remembering who teachers really are (humans who are passionate about helping their students succeed and sharing knowledge) instead of thinking of them as machines they have to “bypass” in order to get an A, it’s hard to imagine a world in which they wouldn’t see an increase in their grades as well, and, perhaps even more importantly, an increase in the amount that they’re enjoying their classes.