6 Tips for Asking Your Teacher for Help
If you’re not doing well in a class, whose job is it to make sure you improve? If you answered “my teacher’s,” think again. The real answer is that it’s up to you to recognize when you’re struggling and find a way to get the help that you need.
Learning to go to others – teachers, tutors, parents, or friends – and admit that you don’t understand something and need some help isn’t easy. Many of us grow up thinking that we’re supposed to just know everything, and if we don’t, there’s something wrong with us.
But in fact, recognizing when we need help, learning how to advocate for ourselves, and seeking out the support we need are important parts of becoming mature, responsible adults.
Still, the process of asking others for help can be scary. Approaching teachers can be especially intimidating, so here are a few tips on the best ways to connect with them to get the help you need:
- Be Considerate
Teachers genuinely want to help you, and it’s part of their job, so don’t worry that you’re being a nuisance by approaching them outside of class. However, teachers are also super busy, so you want to show that you’re being considerate of their time. After saying hello, ask them if they have time to talk. If not, ask when would be a better time and make a point of putting it in your planner so you don’t forget to meet the teacher at that time.
- Ask Specific Questions
In order to make the most of the time you spend meeting a teacher, go in with specific questions you want to ask. It’s hard to help someone who can’t explain what they need help with. If you come in saying, “I just don’t get math!” your teacher really doesn’t know where to begin. Instead, you can bring in a problem that you got wrong on a recent quiz and ask them to walk you through where you went wrong. If it’s a class like history or English, instead of saying, “How can I make my essay better?” you could ask, “How can I improve my organization of ideas since that’s where I always score lowest on my essays.” In short, you should brainstorm specific questions to ask the teacher before you meet with him or her.
- Keep Your Email Communications Professional
If you’d rather email your teacher instead of speaking to him or her in person, go ahead. Just make sure that your email is professional and appropriate. Like a formal letter, an email should start with a salutation, followed by an explanation of why you are writing, and end with a closing and your name. Using correct punctuation and spelling will also go a long way toward showing your teacher that you take your schoolwork seriously. Want another tip? You’re more likely to get a quick response if you use a specific subject line like “Question about Jane Eyre essay” rather than something generic like “Help!” Even so, don’t expect teachers to be sitting by their screens at midnight ready to reply to last-minute requests. Plan on waiting a minimum of 24 hours for the teacher’s reply.
- Be Proactive
Speaking of timing, it’s best to ask for help when you first realize that you’re struggling with something, not after you’ve already gotten a poor grade on your report card or final exam. Be proactive about seeking out help from a teacher or tutor as soon as you feel like you’re falling behind.
- Be Honest
Let’s say you know you’re not going to be able to finish a paper or other assignment by the due date. You can approach the teacher in advance in a positive and respectful manner, explain why you won’t be able to meet the deadline and ask for an extension. Often, teachers will grant your request, and they’ll be more likely to be forgiving if you are honest and upfront. Just remember to thank them for the extension, and if they say no, thank them for considering.
- Respect Your Teacher’s Decisions
If feel you didn’t get the grade on a paper or test that you should have, it’s fine to approach the teacher to ask for an explanation. However, instead of going into the conversation ready for an argument, try asking how you could have improved your work to get a better grade. Sometimes teachers will rethink a grade and change it; other times, they won’t. Whatever happens, use this as a learning opportunity. Your willingness to have a mature conversation will show great character.
Other Ways to Advocate for Yourself
Of course, there are lots of other ways that you can get help in a certain subject without going to a teacher directly. Are there other students in your class who seem to understand what’s going on? Seek them out and see if they can explain some of the concepts to you. You can also look online for information, ask your parents or siblings, or make an appointment with a school counselor or tutor for additional help. Just don’t put it off! The sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll feel confident that you can succeed.