The journey of a teenager is fraught with so many emotional highs and lows, and throughout their journey, we (educators and parents) place reasonable expectations upon teenagers to ensure they are following guidelines, learning, growing, and becoming productive young adolescents. The potentially challenging transition from middle school into high school can sometimes be overlooked by parents since there are no big exams or apparently significant choices to be made. However, this period is a critical time for students, as they can experience many changes during the transition from middle school into high school. A “bildungsroman” is the name given to a journey concerning the coming of age of an individual and the emotional and physical changes that occur on the journey from a child to a young adult. As adults, we have all experienced our own version of a bildungsroman. We can all identify key moments in our lives where we finally understood ourselves, how we learned best, and why one subject was more difficult than another. Perhaps we can remember the anxiety we may have felt as 9th graders, and the overwhelming pressure of greater homework demands and parent expectations. In the transition from 8th to 9th grade, students can get left behind and as a result have trouble keeping up with the change in gears required at school.
As an educator that teaches 9th and 10th grade in a Swiss international school, I can say that the first two years of high school are some of the most challenging for students because the amount that is expected of students grows exponentially and immediately. There is a sudden shift from the warm supportive environment of middle school to a push towards independent learning and thinking in high school and students are introduced to a greater diversity of teachers each with their own teaching styles. The requirement for obtaining and maintaining good grades can be stressful and overwhelming for students. Apart from the academic concerns, the shift to high school brings with it a new set of social challenges. Their circle of friends can suddenly change and as a result, students can end up feeling left out and struggling for acceptance. They may not understand why they have been excluded from friendship groups they have been part of for perhaps their entire school life. As students are trying to be more independent and be seen as such, they can feel as if their teachers don’t appreciate their individuality and as a result feel confined by expectations both behaviorally and academically. Adolescents are also going through puberty and rapidly changing hormones can influence the confidence on a social and personal level. These social pressures and the feeling of needing to “fit in” can affect the learning potential for any student.
The first two years of high school can either be a bumpy hard learning process due to the factors listed above, or, students can flourish by accepting the journey of understanding and growth that they are on. Parents can prove to be an incredible source of support during this transition by taking time to understand the very real concerns of their adolescents. Often students feel that their parents don’t really understand the amount of pressure they face in school. There is a very real difference between school life 20-30 years ago, to that of today.
As students start 9th grade, they very quickly learn that they are now solely in charge of meeting all deadlines set, in terms of homework and remembering test dates. Students also have to navigate the problems of juggling multiple classes, each with their own learning requirements. If students are not already confident in their learning styles, it can be tricky for them to keep up with their courses as each class carries its own subject requirements. The biggest challenge for students in 9th grade that I see as an educator is the knowledge that all the grades, all the learning, and effort now counts towards their future. One of the most common concerns I hear from students is regarding the pressure of managing their time wisely. So many students find it difficult to maintain a study schedule and their extracurricular activities, and as a result students end up spending many late nights cramming and completing homework at the last minute. This only compounds the many issues that students face as sleep issues can set in and really affect the brain’s ability to process, store, and learn information. 9th grade is prime time for students to start setting up good independent learning habits for the future.
The transition to 10th grade is slightly easier as students are now familiar with the rhythm, pace, and expectation of high school and their teachers; but there are still challenges that students face. If a student hasn’t figured out their distinct learning and study style, 10th grade can prove to be a further challenge, as subjects continue to become more demanding and intense in their coursework. Usually, most subjects build upon material taught in 9th grade, so if a student has suffered in a subject in the previous year, 10th grade can become quite overwhelming for students. The educational consultants at TutorsPlus report that parents can see these early years in high school as a time when children can change school without the disruption which would come by moving during the years immediately preceding the final exams, but this may be a false sense of security. Moves at this time may result in children missing out on some of the necessary foundations for academic success in later years.
With all of these transitions and demands, what is the best way to support students? Parents can be such a source of support and encouragement, but it is hard to know exactly where to start. Here are some helpful suggestions along with some useful studies and articles to get you started on your journey of understanding.
- If you see your adolescent struggling after the 1st term in 9th grade with any subject, have a chat with them to find out if they are having trouble meeting expectations, or keeping a study schedule.
- Starting extra tuition in 9thth and 10thth grade for demanding subjects can be such a beneficial source of support, before they get too far behind and start struggling and losing their confidence. As many subjects teach foundational material in these first two years, if a student fails to understand these foundational aspects, the final years of high school will be a challenge. Although it may seem excessive, supporting adolescents in understanding of foundational subject material can drastically help boost their confidence as they become stronger learners.
- Acknowledge the stress that adolescents feel in high school. Too often students feel unsupported in the level of stress they experience and many times, students are told they are ‘too stressed’ without being given tools to help manage their stress. The competition students face is very real, so help your adolescent by listening to their fears, and giving them safe spaces to destress. Active participation in activities that provide a place where a student doesn’t have to ‘think’ and can do (sports, art, dance, theater, etc) can be highly beneficial in giving students the space to destress and have a bit of fun.
- Meet and maintain contact with your child’s teachers, and encourage your child to do so too. Teachers appreciate it and students at this age can be shy to approach their teachers for help. Usually teachers in high school will follow your child for a few years. It helps not only for you to know the teachers your adolescent has, but also to understand the expectations of each of the teachers. Teachers appreciate when parents reach out regarding student learning concerns and they are there to help!
- Asking your adolescent about their relationship with social media and creating a safe space for dialogue is highly beneficial as there is a whole world hidden to parents on social media. Students can end up wasting so much time on social media sites but will feel huge pressure not to be left out of every online conversation. Furthermore, incidents of bullying between school-aged kids on social media is a very real phenomenon and can be almost invisible to parents. Be aware of how much time your child spends on social media and don’t be afraid to ask them what they post.
- Try to get students in the habit of reviewing their notes regularly. Daily is best and if students can explain their notes, then you can be sure they understand the material.
- Encourage students to take responsibility for their learning. This means that when they do not understand something that they need to follow up with their teachers. There are many ways to do this if they are not always comfortable raising their hand in class when they don’t understand. It could be an email to the teacher, or a quiet request to discuss after class.
- Edutopia.org is a great website filled with resources for parents of kids in grades 4-12.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your adolescents’ teachers or from the team of educational consultants and tutors at TutorsPlus.
International school Science teacher
TutorsPlus Science tutor and SAT/ACT test prep specialist