I'm not a high school teacher, but I do a lot of our seminars at Collegewise. And it's hard not to make judgments about a student by how he acts during a class. Whether you're an "A" student or "C" student, I imagine that your teachers notice these things, too.
1. Are you writing things down?
When I say, "Here's the most important piece of advice I can give you about college essays," I notice which 3 of the 20 students in the room don't bother to write down the advice that follows. And I know the 17 who do take notes are engaged enough to want to make the most of our time together. It tells me who's serious about getting into college. Imagine if I were a chemistry teacher and one of those non-note-takers got a "C" and came to me to ask for extra credit so he could improve his grade. Not gonna happen, kid.
2. Do you seen genuinely happy to be there?
I'm sure my trigonometry teacher in high school knew how bored I was by math because I spent a lot of time yawning in his class. Now that I'm up in front of the classroom, I realize how bad the sleepers look. Students who pay attention, who have pleasant expressions, who even acknowledge you with a nod of the head or a courtesy laugh at one of my stupid jokes, they come off like engaged learners. Imagine if you were on a date and the person was yawning during dinner, doodling on the tablecloth and generally looking bored. Wouldn't you be a little insulted? Doing those things in class is like saying to your teacher, "I don't want to listen to you, and I don't want to be here."
3. Do you ask good questions?
"Do we have to do this?" is a stupid question. "What's an example of a college with strange essay prompts?" is a good question. Whether or not you ask, and the questions you raise, they both say a lot about you as a student. Questions that seek to help you better understand the material, or that just show you're interested and want to more, are good ways to show your teacher that you are an engaged learner.
4. Do you participate?
At a seminar yesterday, I asked, "Who remembers from our essay seminar how you take ownership of a story?" I could have predicted which kids were going to put their hands up–those that had been writing things down and were engaged in the discussion (see questions 1, 2 and 3).
5. Are you nice to other students?
If a student is having trouble understanding, or if he asks a question that seems silly to you, or if he's just not as smooth and socially successful as the rest of the class, do you roll your eyes, snicker at him, or whisper a comment to one of your friends and then giggle? If you do, trust me, your teacher notices. And I'll tell you something–the kid who does those things is never one of the nice kids. The nice kid who leans over and offers to help the struggling one, who whispers, "Hey, want me to show you how to do it?" I like that kid. Extra credit for you.