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15 Things This Teacher Didn’t Learn in High School but Wants You to Know



things you won't learn in high school
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I have been a high school teacher for 21 years. I have taught math, social studies, reading, physical education, and more. A few years back, I gave a similar list like the one below to my graduating seniors as a “gift.” It was entitled “15 Things I Did Not Learn in High School, but I wish I did.” I was especially fond of this group. They were all good kids and had a good work ethic.

So when I was making up their final exam, I reflected back to when I was a senior and close to graduation. I thought about all I learned as an adult that I wish I knew as a “kid.” Things no one ever discussed or if they did, it wasn’t important enough for me to remember. Most likely, both are equally true.

There is a saying when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I know at the time I wasn’t ready for the list below. I don’t think most 18-year-olds are ready for the list below. However, you would be surprised how many kids I taught come back and say, “do you remember when you said this ………?” They hear you, but sometimes they don’t listen to you until they are ready.

As a teacher, here are 15 things I didn’t learn when I was in school that you need to know:

1. Give a good handshake

A proper handshake is essential. Not only does it make a good first impression with someone you meet, but it also gives an air of confidence in yourself. You will shake thousands of hands in your life, and you will leave thousands of first impressions. Have a good handshake and an alert presence when greeting a new person or an old friend or colleague.

2. Be an Overachiever

Giving less than your best is lame. It gets you nowhere in life and will only hold you back. Strive in all you do. Be a person that aims high. You may not always reach your highest goals, but you will be a lot closer than someone who just “gets by.”

3. Don’t be a resumé thrower

I have never met someone who I enjoy being around for an extended amount of time who feels it is necessary to let me know his credentials. Save the resumé for job applications and interviewers. No one likes someone who has to tell you where they went to college, what sport they excelled at, or what people they know. If you ask, great, but don’t voluntarily throw out your proudest moments to look or feel more important.

4. Don’t whine or complain

I ask this question each semester with the new students I teach. “Does anyone like someone who whines or complains.” I never have one hand go up. We all know this, but we have a hard time following through with it. Whiners and complainers kill your mojo. Stay away from them and make it a point not to be one. Save the complaining for that one close friend or spouse. Not everyone you talk to wants to hear what’s going wrong with your day.

5. Enthusiasm is for real

It might seem “cliché,” but it’s the truth. Enthusiasm can change a challenging situation into a rewarding one. Have energy in your work, with your children, or in your hobbies. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you are enthusiastic, other people will have enthusiasm as well. Don’t be a Debbie Downer. People feed off both positive and negative behavior.

6. Find a mentor

We can learn so much from other people. Whether it is in our profession, hobbies, health, and wellness, spending time with people who are “better” than us and whom we can learn from will accelerate our progress. Why reinvent the wheel when someone already has?

7. Be a copycat

Along with finding a mentor, start observing those we admire. If you want confidence, watch confident people. How do they move their bodies? What do they say? Modeling others’ behavior and mannerisms are quick and easy and don’t require any money or resources. The internet offers us a wealth of free material. We can utilize it to our advantage for more than “surfing” the web. If you want confidence, watch a video of someone famous who portrays confidence. Copy what they do. Your mind will follow your body.

8. Be humble

One of the best character traits of an individual is someone who does extraordinary things and doesn’t feel the need to brag, boast, or tell others. Today’s social media-frenzied society has lost track of this outstanding personal quality. We all love the humble person, although we know they are a “badass” at life.

9. Do things that scare you often

Each time we do something challenging, stressful, scary, or uncomfortable, we get a stronger mentality. Like a rubber band, you stretch it once, it recoils. You stretch it, again and again; eventually, it doesn’t recoil back to its original shape. Doing things that scare you is similar to the rubber band. The more times we do things outside of our comfort zone, the more we shed our old mentality of what is challenging and the stronger we become.

10. Exercise

Exercise makes you feel better, hhelps you sleep better and  enables you to think better. It is good for you, and it doesn’t need to be some elaborate routine at a gym. Go for a hike, a walk, do some burpees or sit-ups. Anything is better than nothing, and you will elevate your mood. It is no secret that people with anxiety and depression are prescribed exercise to help them alleviate symptoms.

11. Smile a lot

A couple things about smiling. When you smile, your mood changes almost automatically. Not a fake smile, a genuine big smile will make you feel better. Smiling also puts others at ease. It makes you welcoming, and people will want to be with you. It is hard to be angry when you are genuinely smiling.

12. Watch your language

I am not talking about using or not using profanity, I am talking about changing our definition of words to empower us. I use the word “Fun” to describe activities that make us better. A hard work out is “fun.” Reading a challenging book is “fun.” If you equate difficult tasks with opportunities for improvement as “fun,” they will be much more enjoyable and less arduous. Is it “challenging” or “hard”? Simply changing the definition of our words or changing a word from something like ”hard” to “challenging”, changes your perception of the task at hand.

13. Be grateful

There is so much to be thankful for in life. Yes, sometimes it’s tough to feel grateful. A loved one is struggling. Your bills are due. We all have our stuff that makes life tough at times. Like a snowball that gets rolled in wet snow, what we focus on will grow. Focus on the good things, and you will see more good things in your life.

14. Give compliments

It’s common sense, but people like to hear good things about themselves. Make people feel good. It not only helps them feel better but makes you feel better as well. Tell someone you like their hair. They have a great smile. You love their shoes. With so much negativity around, a little positive energy is always welcomed and good. The more compliments you give, the more you get back in return. I do not know how it works, but it happens.

15. Take full responsibility for everything in your life

I saved this for last because to me it is the most significant piece of advice I think someone could benefit from. You could also rephrase it to say, I will not make excuses and not allow other people to make excuses for me. When you take full responsibility in all you do, your life will change, and it will change for the better. No more blame. No more apathy. Decide to take responsibility and hold yourself accountable for everything. When you do that, the world and the people around you change. You no longer are at the mercy of others or circumstances. You become an active participant with a choice to make things better or worse.

My name is John Klessinger. I am a 44-year-old physical education teacher, high school wrestling coach, and fitness trainer. I have been a public high school teacher and wrestling coach for the past 21 years. I have worked in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and group fitness instructor for the past fifteen years. I have been married nearly 18 years to my wife, Kristel and we have two teenagers, Ellie, who is 15 and Mason, almost 13. You can check out my other blog posts at and eBook "Strong Mind Strong Body" on Amazon Kindle. 

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