Get off to a good start

Get off to a good start

As another academic year begins, Dr Ali Khwaja provides tips on making a good beginning by getting the first impressions right.

We are all aware that first impressions can be very lasting and can have a significant effect on our actions, relationships or attitudes.  So it is with the first impressions you give out as you begin your new academic year of school or college.

Teachers form opinions about students and vice versa.  Parents form opinions about their children’s new teachers — and of course vice versa.  In some ways parents also form opinions about their children seeing how much they are studying, now that they have gone to a higher class.

You have heard of the proverb, “Even a thousand mile journey begins with the first step.”  What is equally important is that the first step should be taken in the right direction, otherwise you may be miles away from your goal, and find it very difficult to get back on the right track.

That is what happens sometimes to students who take things very easy at the beginning of the academic year — they become like the hare in the Hare and Tortoise story.  There are simple but very effective ways to make a good beginning.  See how many of these appeal to you, and more important, how many of them you can put into practice:

* Get yourself thoroughly familiarised with the new text books and subjects.  Don’t just stop with putting neat covers and labels on the books, actually browse through them and do a survey of all the sections, chapters, sequence, number of pages, etc.

* If possible, identify the topics and subjects that are new and possibly difficult. 
Talk to someone who has studied or is studying those subjects, and get some insights into what those topics deal with.  If you connect the topics to real life and understand their relevance to your future, your interest and motivation level will go up.

* Be ready for the fact that you will have greater volumes to study, and more difficult problems, definitions etc. compared to last year. Rise to the challenge.

* Read up the chapter(s) that are going to be taught the next day, at least give them a cursory glance.  Prior familiarisation will help you grasp much easily when the class is going on.

* During the class, cultivate the habit of making very short notes (bullet points) of the important aspects, even if it is in a very rough manner.  Then get back home, read up the chapter once more — and wherever required, convert your notes into fair form.  This activity will hardly take a few minutes, but if you inculcate it from the first week or month of your academic year, it will become a habit, and then you will find it so easy to continue even when portions become larger and wider.

* Develop a good connection with your teachers.  Take the trouble of wishing them, meeting them outside the classroom, inquiring about them.  This will not only make your classroom time more enjoyable, but will also keep doors open to consult them if you have doubts later on.

* If you are having difficulty in any subject, do not hesitate to inform your parents right in the beginning.  Do not wait till you fall back, your grades suffer, and you get scolded for not studying.

* Try to set your long-term career goals, regardless of which class you have started.  It is proven that those who have goals and a direction in life perform much better in exams than those who are just studying for the sake of getting higher marks.  You have the right to change your career goals later if you find something better.

* Get into the habit of regular revision, at least every weekend. Don’t neglect the easy first few chapters, keep looking them up so that you don’t forget them at the last moment.

* Create a nice niche at home where you are going to study.  Ensure that this place is not used for any other activity.  Check that your seat is comfortable (but not too comfortable), lighting is adequate, and that there are no visual or sound disturbances.

* Work out with your parents in advance when you are going to watch TV, what games you would like to play at what time on which days of the week.  And make sure that you stick to the commitment you have given to them.  Minor deviations will be excused, but if you say you are going out to play for an hour, and return after 2-1/2 hours, you have lost the trust of your parents, and you can be sure when exams approach they will curtail you from any and all entertainment.

Time management tips

If you start practicing time management at the beginning of the year, they become second nature to you, and you don’t have to put in any effort to implement them when you are running short of time just before exams.

*Start off with making a plan of how you will be spending your time every day, week, weekend etc.  Monitor and review how much you could actually adhere to your plan (let me be frank with you, if you could keep up to 60-70 per cent of your original time management schedule, you are doing great!).  Keep revising and renewing your time planning, so that by the time the crucial examination days arrive, you have mastered the art of time management.

*Leave lots of margin for unforeseen circumstances — one day you may be feeling unwell, another day your cousins may come to stay with you, some other time you may just not be in the mood for studying.  Your time plan should take into account these unforeseen events.

* Mentally guess how much time you spend on the phone.  The next day when you are about to sleep, check out the total time of all your incoming and outgoing calls (and add the time you spent texting).  You will be surprised how wrong your estimate was.

* Be very careful about the habit known as “procrastination”, i.e. the habit of postponing doing something important, without any reason or cause.  If you succumb to that habit, it becomes very difficult to come out.  Push yourself and complete every important task, and then you can relax.

It has been shown time and again that all great people, including those who not only made monetary success but are also very happy and fulfilled with their lives, are those who treated their time as valuable.  If you do not value your own time, no one will value you as a person.

These are the wonderful days when there is no pressure, time is at your beck and call, lessons are easy, teachers are pleasant to you, and the weather is turning cool.  Don’t allow the home or classroom weather to go to boiling point by letting yourself slip down …. because then you will never catch up the entire year.  Best of luck, and enjoy the new academic year!

For teachers

Here are some ‘first impression’ tips forTeachers:

* Your students are watching and observing you very ardently, particularly when you start with a new class.  Your dressing, how you walk into the class, your opening statements, how you introduce yourself (make sure you do), makes for a good beginning.

* If you appear to be pleasant, smiling, positive and relaxed, they not only identify better with you, but also study better in your class.

* Take the trouble of knowing each student by name, a few other details, and a rough idea of his/her abilities in your subject.  Give personal attention to different students on different days, at least for a few seconds if not minutes.

* Explain to your students the overview of the subject you are teaching, its importance and relevance to life in general, and to different careers in particular.  If they understand that your subject will be helpful in making a better future, they automatically learn more.

* Motivate your students by giving them small tasks, projects, asking them to explore and find out about the topics that are going to be covered — and by giving them lots of positive strokes for the efforts they put in.

*  Make clear rules and guidelines regarding discipline and punishment that is likely to be given for breaking rules.  Smile and be relaxed when you discuss the rules, but also be firm to get the message across that you mean business.  And later … make sure that YOU stick to the rules you laid out.

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