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Virginia Journal of Education


Our High School Seniors Look Back

Some Virginia 12th-graders talk about their K-12 experience.

Another school year rolls toward its end, and Virginia’s public schools prepare to send another class of graduating high school seniors off into the world of higher education, the world of work—or just into the world. We thought it would be instructive to hear from some of those seniors, to give them a chance to reflect on their K-12 experience. With that in mind, we asked some 12th-graders to take a look in the rear-view mirror and share some thoughts with us. Here is some of what they had to say:

What was a strategy that a teacher used to keep you focused?

One thing that really stuck with me was a dance my seventh grade English teacher forced us to do to learn our prepositions. The whole class had to get up and do this special dance while chanting "but, or, for, nor, yet, and so!" We all looked like complete idiots and complained loudly but secretly we loved it and I don't think I'll ever be able to forget my prepositions even if I wanted to. Emily, Henrico County

One strategy several teachers used through my high school career that I really liked was class discussions. We had these in 10th and 12th grade English and in sociology, discussing a book we read or the collective behaviors in sociology. These discussions really enhanced the experience of what we learned and made us think. It also made us interact more as classmates, talking with peers who we normally wouldn’t know too well.  It added another level to the class.  Devin, Frederick County

Pictures. Visual teaching always helps me understand.  Kharis, Northern Virginia

When our class seemed to be out of it, not entirely focused on the material for that day, or no one was participating, one teacher would make us all stand up go out into the hallway and do five minutes of some form of activity. This could be simply walking, getting a drink of water, or stretching. After this she would make us all return to class and each of us had to do at least one brainteaser she placed up on the projector. This would not only get us all back into the mode of participating in class but also taught us how to use our thought processes.  Brad, Stephens City

What do you remember the most from your educational experience?

I feel that the whole “education experience” is about checking off boxes and caring only about the letter grade, not the quality of the things that you’ve learned. With that in mind, I would have to say that the thing I will remember most are the teachers that truly inspired me and made me passionate about the subject I was learning. I really admire teachers who attempt to teach material in creative ways and not just lecture and drill facts into our heads. I will remember those teachers always. Gaby, Virginia Beach

What I remember most is doing things out of the ordinary, like field trips or a cool project. My field trip to New York City with my fashion marketing class was a particular favorite.  Amy, Virginia Beach

Why were you able to succeed? What really helped you?

Ever since elementary school, I’ve had trouble focusing on one task at a time. I would get easily distracted and carried away with trivial things. When I reached middle school, I started to play in the band and act in plays. It was all pretty fun, but slowly I found I could concentrate a little bit more. When acting I must always be “on” every second on stage. There is a thought process that, as a character, I have to go through. While playing a song, I always have to know where I am in the music. I’d probably be pretty aloof if it wasn’t for drama and music.  Audrey, Frederick County

Was there a person besides a teacher who furthered your education, and how?

In elementary school there was a guidance lady that I was close to. She taught me how to present myself better; she always said “eye contact is very important” and to say how something makes you feel, rather than blaming someone when a problem surfaces.  This might not seem like a big deal to most, but it really is. I can communicate with teachers, peers and co-workers more clearly. Speaking well and reading body language are skills for school and the real world.  Payton, Frederick County

Were you involved in school sports/activities? How did that help you as a student?

During my junior year, I participated in an after-school activity called P.I.E. (Partners in Education) Club. Once a week, we would travel to an inner-city school and help mentor and tutor elementary school students. By helping others, I learned a lot about myself. I enjoy helping others when they are in need, and it has helped me grow into who I am today. Erin, Chesterfield County

I was involved in both school sports and school activities.  I played baseball, as well as participated in the National Honor Society, band and Interact Club.  I feel that being involved in multiple activities gives you more character, teaches you leadership and how to work as a team, makes you a more well-rounded student, and teaches you how to both prioritize and manage your time. Also, being involved in athletics taught me how to deal with both disappointment and defeat.  Brad, Stephens City

What is one thing a teacher said to you that has stuck with you?

My English teacher in my junior year of high school once told me that I had a lot of potential but I did not live up to it. This stuck with me because I began to realize that he was correct. Since then, I have strived to live up to my potential. Erin, Chesterfield County

Life only gets harder from here on, so you better be prepared as much as you can for what may come.  Anonymous, Virginia Beach

“Morgan, no talking please”—that will stick with me forever, because I am a talkative person. Morgan, Virginia Beach

“I didn’t have any doubt.” I’ve heard this from different teachers under different circumstances, but when I heard that I knew how much they believed in me and what I could do. It was heart-warming when it wasn’t my mother cheering but a teacher that I didn’t think knew me too well, but through my work could tell my potential.  Kate, Virginia Beach

What would you say to someone who says public schools are easy or don’t produce quality education?

I find my curriculum to be plenty challenging. Just this year I’m taking five AP classes, including two sciences. My AP government teacher has had me write over 40 essays so far this year. I challenge anyone to call my public education “easy.”  Erica, Frederick County

It all depends on the person. I’ve been home-schooled and gone to both private public schools. So no matter where you are, it all depends on how much you want to take away from what you have learned, how you apply it to daily life, and where you ultimately want to end up.  Anonymous, Virginia Beach

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a student?

My biggest challenge has been balancing all the things I have going on. Every teacher, coach and club advisor thinks that his/her class or sport or club is the only thing you participate in. They demand 100 percent, and giving 100 percent to 10 different things is unimaginably exhausting. I think the pressures and responsibilities are put on kids at younger and younger ages. High school now is nothing like what it was when my parents were in it.  Every student knows how many students they’re competing against to get into college, so we all try to do our very best in all our classes and participate well in every club possible. Then on top of that, we have jobs to assist in paying for college.  Molly, Frederick County

Getting past just the social aspect of school, and getting down to actually doing my work. Morgan, Virginia Beach

The biggest challenge was definitely mastering the math classes. I loved the feeling when I felt intelligent enough to handle writing an analytical essay or pulling the exact date of the Gettysburg Address from my mind in class, but when it came to math I was a human on the moon—I couldn’t catch my breath. I could see the earth, and hear the earth, but I couldn’t touch it or understand why I was so far away. But with oodles of stress and hard work I made it to earth and it was that much more rewarding when I could ace a math test and pin it up on my fridge.  Kate, Virginia Beach

What is your favorite type of teacher and why?

A teacher that can also relate and talk on the same level as me is my favorite type of teacher, and one that can teach me more than what’s in the textbooks and will go out of her way to help with anything. It takes a special kind of teacher to do that, like the teacher that will stay after class or school and help you with your history paper, even though she is an English teacher that doesn’t even have you in her class. I like teachers that display interest in all their students’ lives but can enforce school policy and get the curriculum done. Most teachers just want you to learn, but the kind that wants you to excel is the best kind of teacher.  Stephanie, Frederick County

My favorite type of teacher is one who speaks to me like I am an adult rather than a child.  Amy, Virginia Beach

My favorite type of teacher is one who is personable. Physics is probably one of the most challenging classes at my school but students look forward to it because our teacher is so cool. He is definitely difficult but he has taken the time to get to know his students so he can joke around with us while still educating. He incorporates pop culture and real-world references into his teaching that are hilarious but surprisingly helpful.  Emily, Henrico County

My favorite type of teacher was the one that cared. I had a physics teacher and she wasn’t the best teacher but that didn’t mean she wasn’t my favorite. She accepted that she didn’t always know the answers but at the same time she always searched for the answer. She’s very understanding. I’ve come to her before telling her I knew I wasn’t ready for the test for x, y and z reasons and she’d give me an extra day or so. This is how much she cared about all of us and she is my favorite type of teacher for that reason.  Amanda, Henrico County

What motivated you the most as a student?

The thought that I was actually accomplishing something, doing the best I could, and the progress I’ve made. Also, I knew that finishing school would pay off for me in the long run. Christalyn, Hanover County

It’s not something in the past that has motivated me or even in the present. It’s the future that gets me up for my 7 a.m. class, and it’s my future that motivates me to do the best I can do. Keeping myself on track to a positive and successful future may be hard at times, but I always find myself taking a moment to think about the possible “good” and “bad” futures I could have. The desire to end up in the “good” future is so strong for me, that I don’t give myself an option for failure. It is my motivation.”  Ashleigh, Frederick County

What technology helped you further your education?

Definitely a laptop. I have no idea what people did before computers—it’s beyond me. Also Google, Google is God. Gaby, Virginia Beach

What did you learn in elementary school that helped you in high school?

I learned to have fun. I enjoyed going to school and reading and learning, my teachers made it fun. I knew that sitting and staring in a classroom didn’t help me, so working with friends after school to study, and making little games to review (that I learned in elementary school) brought back the true enjoyment in school, and the pride I felt when I succeeded. Although I didn’t get a gold star on the chart anymore, I had self-rewarding tendencies, like treating myself to some frozen yogurt when I saw the gleaming ‘A’ on a test. Yum!  Kate, Virginia Beach

Naptime works wonders.  Morgan, Virginia Beach



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