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By now most of the world is back in school. Many Latter-day Saints have already had blessings, family councils, and goal-setting moments. At the end of the school year one time, a son of ours was thrilled to announce that he had achieved his one goal. I was delighted and asked what it was. “To wear shorts every day, even during winter,” he smiled. And thus we see that not every goal is an academic one!
It’s good to have fun goals and academic ones, too. President John Taylor said, “We want…to be alive in the cause of education. We are commanded of the Lord to obtain knowledge, both by study and by faith, seeking it out of the best of books. And it becomes us to teach our children, and afford them instruction in every branch of education calculated to promote their welfare.”
In our pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth, we’re told, “Education is an investment that brings great rewards and will open the doors of opportunity that may otherwise be closed to you. Plan now to obtain an education. Be willing to work diligently and make sacrifices if necessary.” It reminds me of the saying, “If you think education costs too much, try ignorance.”
Developing discipline is another great reason to strive to do well in school. I love what Thomas Huxley said: “The most valuable result of all education is to make you do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned. And however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”
In addition to writing, I’ve spent a few years as a substitute high school teacher, and when there’s some extra time I offer tips to the kids about how to boost their grades and how to succeed in college. Many of these tips apply to younger students as well. So let’s roll up our sleeves and make this year a resounding success. Here are ten ways to do it:
- Sit up front and center. Granted, when there are seating charts this is tough to do. But when you can choose your seat, sit up close. Studies have shown that top grades often go to the kids in front, and it stands to reason. They’re less distracted and more likely to participate.
- Don’t see college as simply a route to a job. Go there to learn broadly, to enrich your perspective, to challenge your brain. College can prepare you to talk to anyone in the world, about any topic. Find out about other fields, not just your major.
- When you study for a test, make up a test of your own. You will be stunned at how many of your same questions are on the actual exam. When you think like a teacher you look for the kinds of material that would make good test questions.
- Get phone numbers from other classmates. When you miss a class, it’s your job to contact other students to find out what you missed.
- And speaking of jobs, school is your job. You should approach it with the tenacity and reliability you’d bring to an employer. Be serious about learning. Have fun and be social, yes, but never forget that first, you’re here to learn.
- Re-teach what you’ve learned. I’ve seen research showing that Asian students who have grandparents living in the home excel in schoolwork because when they get home from school the whole family asks what the child learned that day. The student has to teach it to the relatives and siblings, and thus it becomes more mentally embedded. This task also helps students pay better attention during the day, knowing they’d have to re-teach this again later. We used to play a game called “Stump Mom” or “Stump Dad” and ask the kids if they could stump us with something they’d learned that day (this was more fun in the younger grades, I have to admit!) But they mentioned that it kept them looking for a good “stumper” all day.
- Don’t just learn enough to regurgitate the facts and pass a test. Actually find out why these facts matter. Do extra reading on the topics. Immerse yourself for your own good, not just to get a grade. When our kids were in a school that didn’t assign any homework, I came up with a “Homework Box”—a little index of cards that asked thought-provoking questions for them to research. How do antibiotics work? What’s the most dangerous creature in the ocean? What are three skateboarding terms Mom might not know? What’s a chromosome? What are the five tallest mountains? Why was the Eiffel Tower constructed? How many actors have portrayed Robin Hood?
- For younger kids, establish a way they can earn cell phone and TV time by reading or practicing an instrument first. We also had a “no TV during the week” rule, recording special programs to watch on the weekend. This kept them from rushing through their schoolwork to meet the TV schedule.
- Create Homework Central. Whether you’re in first grade or in college, you need a place to work that’s free from distractions, and outfitted with all the supplies you need. Designating a spot for this also underscores its importance. In my Meridian Magazine article, “Do You Have a Back-to-School Checklist?” I outline this and many other essentials which can ensure a great year.
- Last, take the opportunity to meet with your professors during their office hours. Be on the same team. Allow them to get to know you and realize how hard you’re trying in that subject. I formed some lifelong friendships with professors in graduate school, and wish I had followed this advice better in undergraduate school as well. And let’s not forget the brilliant advice from President Henry B. Eyring, who said to take teachers, not classes. Structure your schedule not for a class you need, but for the top professor in that field.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway: Don’t neglect your spiritual education as you embark upon secular training. Nothing—and I do mean nothing—trumps a strong testimony and a close relationship with the Lord. As we read in Alma 37:35, “O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth: yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.” Seminary and Institute classes are indispensable aids to this end.
And then, once technically “finished,” are we really ever finished? Education should be an ongoing, lifelong pursuit. Some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet never finished college, but immersed themselves in books and opportunities to learn. Nothing should hold us back from the quest for self-improvement. I remember reading that Camilla Kimball continued to take college classes all her life. What a wonderful way to ensure excitement and “aha” moments!
Last, I’ll share this quote from her husband, President Spencer W. Kimball, who said, “To be mediocre when only application and diligence would have netted superiority is an error akin to sin.” Latter-day Saints are known to be industrious workers, school leaders, and coveted employees. Let’s keep a good thing going.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.