As teenagers, we often hear that “high school is the best time of your life.” (Along with “you’re never gonna be this young again”, “enjoy your youth”, and other “encouraging” phrases thrown around by adults.)

But, according to several AISB teachers, this may not necessarily be true. It seems that many would have actually done things much differently, if given the chance. And in this article, they share this advice to make our high school years a little better.

Tip #1: Develop Your Social Network

“If I could change one thing about my experiences as a teenager it would be branching out more,” says AISB Science Teacher, Luke Scholtes. “I had a close knit group of three to four friends, but venturing out of that was difficult for me. I found it very hard to have a conversation and feel confident in what I was saying.”

Mr. Scholtes throughout high school.

The biggest challenge Mr. Scholtes had to overcome in high school was social anxiety—a common struggle for many adolescents. In fact, one in three teenagers will have had Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) by the time they finish high school. So, how did Mr. Scholtes get through it?

“Nobody is thinking about you as much as you are thinking about you,” he explains. 

Mr. Scholtes says that as he’s gotten older, he’s realized how much he was “in his own head” while growing up. This is true for most people, as our brains aren’t fully developed (especially the parts that make us to really see things outside of ourselves). “You’re not gonna know these people in ten years, so even if you say something cringy, no one will remember,” adds Scholtes. He encourages teens to stop worrying so much about what people think, and “just go for it.”

Put yourself out there to “find your tribe”

Easier said than done, for sure, but English teacher Chuck Adams (aka “Mr. Chuck”) suggests that taking time to “find your tribe” may be part of the solution.

Thinking back to his high school days, Mr. Chuck recalls a memory that stands out: when he and his friends performed a “horrifically bad” choreographed dance in the school. 

Mr. Chuck (hand-painted “STOP” sign on his shirt) performing in his school’s talent show.

While this experience could have been embarrassing for some, Mr. Chuck says that since he was with such a strong friend group, they were able to take that risk. They were comfortable to stand out within the group, which made risk-taking easier. The experience connected them and brought their “tribe” closer together. 

“High school is a way to try out building and maintaining a social network, and then building on that social network to do something really unique and special,” states Mr. Chuck.

He adds that finding your tribe might be “simply allowing yourself to be openly collaborative with anyone you happen to be working with,” suggesting that you might experience a great feeling when you find the people who you are comfortable around and who make you feel like you belong.

Developing these relationships in the age of social media

PE Teacher Alina Hora says that finding her tribe was easier since she was on a basketball team; but she points out that it must be harder for our generation to form these relationships due to our social media use.

Ms. Hora’s senior picture.

“You are so connected to [phones] you don’t actually go and talk to the person openly,” she says.

She’s not wrong. Very often, during social gatherings, my entire friend group is often on our phones. Social media helps create and maintain connections, but it can also be detrimental, as we’re not fully “in the moment.”

A Brown University study actually shows that the quality of the interaction decreases when pairs of participants are on their phones, regardless of how close their relationship is.

Hora agrees that real life connections are more valuable than online connections. “Those are skills that are going to make you succeed in life,” she says in regards to face-to-face interactions. “You are gonna meet different people and you need to know how to handle them. When you’re using [your phone], there’s no social connection happening.“

Hora advises that facing the person, looking into their eyes, seeing their body language, will help you understand whether they’re paying attention to you to not. This way, “you will be creating positive relationships,” she says.

Tip #2: Take Advantage of Opportunities 

High school is the perfect time to “discover who you want to be and what you want to do, and to start that journey,” according to Design Teacher Erik Peterson (aka “Mr. Erik”). In high school, Mr. Erik was engaged in a variety of after-school activities such as rugby, fitness personal training, lifeguarding, and even band. He says he doesn’t recall most of his academic experiences, but remembers those extra activities he was engaged in. 

“Very rarely for the rest of your life will so many opportunities be placed in front of you with so many people encouraging and assisting you to get there,” reflects Mr. Erik.

Recalling some of his best high school memories, he talks about traveling to festivals and rugby games, playing in the games themselves, and being with friends. He remembers one particularly wet rugby practice when he and his team practiced for one hour in the rain and got absolutely drenched. “It was so miserable, but because we were together it was still fun,” he says.

Mr. Erik (with the ball in the black, green and yellow shirt) playing rugby with his high school’s team, “The Barbarians.”

Mr. Erik adds that extracurriculars are super important and agrees that they are especially accessible at AISB. In the first season alone, the school offered 58 flex time activities, 40 CCAs, 18 service groups, and 12 councils for high school students. 

These extracurriculars can teach you valuable life skills, says Mr. Erik. An example he gives is picking up a new sport. Not only are you going to play, but “you’ll also learn game sense, game strategy, team play, how to behave with the team off the field,” he says. “Those are things that you should learn.” 

But along with the activities you’re engaged in, “learning how to learn is the most important part of school,” Mr. Erik explains.

He says that you might be very social and be engaged in lots of activities right now, but “if you don’t learn the system and don’t wire your brain in a way to pick up these new skills and experiences, you will not be able to pick things up later on.” 

High school is the time when you get to experiment, to try out new things, decide what you like, and what you don’t. It’s the perfect time to “learn the system,” says Mr. Erik, agreeing that extracurriculars provide perfect opportunities to do so.

Tip #3: Find Your Balance

“My biggest challenge [in high school] was keeping up with everything,” admits PE Teacher Andrey Kavun.

He remembers that between school, training, and working night shifts, his only thought at the end of the day was sleep. Describing how it was hard to keep up with everything, Mr. Kavun says that he had to find a way to balance all areas of his life. 

Kavun playing basketball in high school

“You need to have a clear goal for yourself, to see [your] purpose,” he says. “[My goal was] to achieve high results in sports, and because of that I felt like I could sacrifice going out with friends,” he adds.

Thinking back on his own experience, Mr. Kavun says it’s hard to stick to your goals. He talks about his junior prom, and the rehearsals for the waltz dance that were held six months in advance to the event. It was “a very big thing,” says Mr. Kavun, remembering the seniors’ “fancy” outfits and the endless hours they spent learning how to waltz.

On the day of the prom, having missed rehearsals because of his busy schedule, Mr. Kavun had to sit aside by himself, watching all his friends dance with their partners.

Sticking to your ultimate goal can be tough, overwhelming, and will sometimes require “sacrifice,” he says. “But it pays off in the future, and it’s absolutely worth it.”

Another strategy that helped Mr. Kavun find balance was properly managing his time. He claims he was very structured, prioritizing his important work and activities, and had a clear schedule. He agrees with PE Teacher Ms. Hora who advises: “you need to be organized to complete all the tasks that you have.” 

Ms. Hora talks about how it’s hard for our generation to stay organized when distractions are literally at the tips of our fingers. She says we should decide how much time we need to spend getting work done and how much time we’re realistically going to be on our phones. “It’s important to follow that plan in order to complete all your tasks,” she advises. 

A great way to sum this up is understanding that “balance looks different for everyone,” according to Mr. Erik, as long as you have clear goals for yourself and a set system that works for your needs.  

Tip #4: Take Care of Your Mental Health

Teenagers’ brains suffer many major changes during adolescence, which is why mental disorders (such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.) are prone to emerge during this time period. To top that off, overusing social media, which our generation has a reputation for, is associated with increasing the risk of these issues.

“I struggled with anxiety and depression [in high school], and social media would’ve exacerbated that,” says Journalism Teacher Jennifer Stevens.

A big reason for this is that Ms. Stevens says social media allows for constant self-comparison; and “comparison is the thief of joy.” She explains “it was bad enough for me just comparing myself to other people at school—girls who were skinnier than me, or had better clothes, better skin. I can’t imagine having to see this compounded with filters.”

Ms. Stevens’ husband, Mr. Scholtes, adds that “You’re seeing the tip of the iceberg on social media, and it’s the best possible [iceberg] tip. You’re comparing yourself to something that’s not real.” 

Another common teenage problem that Ms. Stevens struggled with: “I wasted so much time caring about what people thought… thinking about what I would say, what I wore, how I looked…it got in my head, it caused me anxiety.” 

About one in three teenagers will experience anxiety disorders and/or depression before reaching adulthood. But, unfortunately, seeking professional help has nearly become mockery for our generation.  No wonder 70% of teenagers do not receive the mental health care they require.

Ms. Stevens at her high school graduation ceremony.

“Therapy was a life-changing event,” says Ms. Stevens, explaining that there should be no stigma around reaching out for mental health.

“I’ve had my two best childhood friends die by suicide,” she says. “If they’d reached out to someone, maybe it could’ve been different. If you’re comfortable talking to someone, that’s one of the best things you can do.” 

Another strategy that helped Ms. Stevens work on herself is reflection… which she knows we all hate! She believes that the reason we dislike it so much is because we don’t know what authentic reflection is. “It’s not writing a one-page summary on what you think about something,” she explains. “It’s taking the time and space, asking yourself ‘what do i think about this?’ or ‘what makes me happy?'”. 

Reflection looks different for everyone: journaling, talking to someone, taking five minutes at the end of the day to ask yourself how your day went. In whatever form, reflection helps you have an idea of your true self, and not something that is “prescribed by society,” according to Ms. Stevens.  

“If I would’ve been more reflective and figured out what made me happy, I would’ve focused on that instead of doing things I thought would make me more popular,” she admits.

After reading all this advice from some of AISB’s favorite teachers, you hopefully have some idea of how you might be able make the most out of your high school years. But don’t stress out about doing everything perfectly. Let things happen the way they’re supposed to, and try to enjoy every moment of your experience.