Help your teacher help you

Good students aren’t afraid to ask their teachers for help.  But if all you ask is, “I’m just not getting this—can you help me?”, that’s like telling your doctor, “I’m not feeling well” and hoping she’ll diagnose you with no other information.  The next time you need to ask your teacher for extra help, here are a few tips for making the time more productive for both of you.

1.    Start by being a good kid.
If you’ve blown off your homework, haven’t been paying attention in class, or just haven’t tried all that hard, don’t expect your teacher to save you two weeks before the final just because you ask for help.  Most teachers will go way out of their way to help a good kid who’s struggling.  So start by being a good kid.  If you haven’t done that and still want to ask for help, be honest about it.  Tell your teacher you know it’s your own fault you’re in this mess, and explain you’d like some help turning yourself around. 

2.    Don’t wait to ask. 
If you didn’t understand your trigonometry homework last night, why wait a week or two (or even worse, until after your next test) to ask for help?  This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away on its own.  And the longer you wait, the deeper the academic hole you’re going to be in, and the more material you’ll need to cover.  Ask for help early and you may find that one 10- to 15-minute chat with your teacher is all you need.

3. Be specific.
You can help your teacher help you by pointing out not just what you’re struggling with, but also what you feel confident about.  It sounds like this,

“Here’s my test from last week.   I got every problem with only one variable right, so I think I’m OK there.  But I just fell apart on every problem with two variables.  Can you show me what I’m doing wrong?”

That’s like process of elimination for your teacher.  It makes it easier for him to identify exactly what to focus on to help you improve. 

4. Make the understanding permanent. 
When you leave the meeting with your teacher, the material you just got help with is fresh in your mind.  But you still have to make that understanding permanent.  So after the meeting, go back over your last homework assignment or test and redo what you got wrong.  If you really want to make sure you’ve mastered it, pretend you have to teach it back to your class the next day.  Then stand up in your room and actually teach it (don’t laugh—it works).  That will make your newfound understanding permanent.  

5. Thank your teacher the right way.
You might think that your teacher has nothing better to do during lunch or after school than help you, but the truth is that when teachers do this, they’re doing you a favor (it’s a favor they should do for students, but it’s still a favor).  So here’s how to thank them the right way.  First, tell them how much you appreciate their help.  Then, a day or so later, just stop by and tell your teacher how you made that understanding permanent.

“Thanks so much for helping me yesterday.  I went back through my test last night and redid all of the multi variable problems, and I got all of them right.  I really appreciate your help.”

Now your teacher knows you did your part to make the extra help worthwhile.  And everybody likes to be appreciated when they do a favor for someone.