Preparing for High School: A Parent’s Guide from a Teacher’s Perspective

Photo by  Scott Webb  on  Unsplash

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Guest post by Jess Foster

Though teachers will lament the closing days of summer, the moment is almost upon us. But as families hit up the many store sales and schools send out supply lists, there are other ways to mentally prepare for the school year. Here’s a list, especially for parents of students about to take the step to high school, about how to be ready for a successful year:

1.    Guide them towards independence. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that high school has higher expectations. Not only is there more work to tackle, but many students report that the amount of independence expected from teachers is something that comes as a shock.

If your student misses a day of school, has late homework, or doesn’t understand an assignment have them talk to the teacher before you jump in. If they are especially reticent or shy then they can use email to reach out. Sit down next to them to help write the email, but let it come from them. This will teach them responsibility and will help build a rapport with teachers that will be a huge part of future success.

2.   Learn expectations. One of the largest hurdles for freshmen is that they have many teachers, all of whom have different expectations and ways of conducting their classes. Just having students map out how they can find information and stay organized can help make the work itself seem much less daunting. I suggest having students identify how a teacher:

  • Posts homework (written on the board, on Google Classroom, email, etc.)

  • What kind of daily assignments can be expected? (daily reading, daily practice, etc.)

  • What general expectations does the class have? (Make sure your computer is charged every day, make sure not to be late to class, only use a certain color pen on tests, etc.)

    The last example might sound extreme, but if teachers have certain pet peeves it helps for students to be aware in order to avoid the stress of these general, every day rules in order to feel more comfortable in class. 

3.    Find out what works for your student and get organized. After figuring out the set of expectations a teacher has, it is important for students to figure out how to keep it all organized for themselves. While some like to have the homework recorded electronically, others still use the good old fashioned assignment notebooks. Some students prefer a different, color-coded folder for every class, others like a 5 subject notebook to keep it all in one place.

Again, help your student figure out what works best for staying organized and have them create, and possibly try new systems. Many freshmen who struggle know the class material, but can’t get beyond the logistics of where their homework and notes are in order to get to actual subject matter.

4.    Give students space-- especially during the school day. Have a group of teachers talk about challenges in their classes and you won’t be hard pressed to find a number one complaint is technology. Many people would be surprised, however, to learn that the parents are often the culprits, texting or calling students when they know they’re in school.

Though some communication is necessary, it’s important for parents to separate what information is something they need to know immediately versus what can wait until later. Communication about grades, missing assignments, or poor behavior is especially important to wait to talk about in person. Students are accustomed to having immediate responses from parents and vice versa, but the situation is often more complicated than a quick phone exchange that can leave students in a negative mental and emotional space.

Waiting for an in-person conversation at home can help teach students necessary skills to tackle whatever challenge they’re facing without making them feel overwhelmed or shut down during the school day. 

5.       Monitor Screen Time. One of the largest issues high schoolers face is being tired during the school day. Students this age often have trouble unplugging, whether it be games, social media or even homework, get them in the habit of calling it a night so they can have a more successful day.

6.    Keep talking. Teenage communication can greatly vary, but it’s important to keep communicating with students. The more you treat them like a peer in the conversation by respecting their viewpoints, letting them help steer conversation topics, and genuinely being interested in what they have to say, the more they will come to you when they need it. That’s not to say that many teenagers don’t make this task especially difficult. Here are other helpful tips about how to open up dialogue with your teen.

7.    Branch out beyond the classroom. Though academics should come first, that’s not what high school is limited to. Students who join clubs, sports or activities find what they’re passionate about as well as like-minded friends. This not only creates an important support system, but it also helps motivate students in school. Help your student see high school as a place of discovering what they’d like to pursue in life; it shouldn’t feel like it’s just an end-game for college. 

8.    Have healthy expectations. Though high school grades and activities matter, freshman year is still expected to be one of growth. This means that students will stumble in order to find what works for them both in the classroom, in activities and in friend groups. Because it is a year where a lot of change will occur, it is important that students are guided to make any mistakes into moments of learning. 

Though high school can seem like a big change, it is often embraced as an experience that provides more freedom and independence. Students will become more aware of the goal to prepare for college, but it’s important that they take the experience one day at a time and not let it become merely a stressful task with no connection to their future goals. High school is a great opportunity for students to find what they love and what they’re good at, but that doesn’t come without obstacles as they find what they’re not as passionate about. Though no one likes to think about the capital F of failure, set-backs should be expected and embraced as students find who they want to become. 


Jess Foster is a playwright, dramaturg, and teacher whose work has been produced in New York, Providence, Boston, Washington DC, Albuquerque, and Iowa, where she earned her MFA from the Iowa Playwrights' Workshop. When she's not working in the theater or chasing her children around, Jess teaches English to high schoolers. She is originally from Maine and received her Bachelor's degree from Wheaton College; she currently resides outside of Boston with her wife and two sons.


PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.

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